Coronavirus has been associated with animals such as the bat and pangolin, making it a zoonotic virus. However, in the Netherlands, minks have been affected by SARS-CoV-2 the most. On July 3, Dutch authorities announced the 18th mink farm to be infected with COVID-19, infecting some 4,300 animals.
In total, almost 600,000 of the nation’s 800,000 minks have been killed – treated with carbon monoxide gas to stop the virus from being spread. The Netherlands is the world’s largest mink fur producer alongside China, Denmark, and Poland. Yet, even China’s virologists have not reported such cases in their mink farms. Veterinarian Anne Sofie Hammer at the University of Copenhagen said, ‘We have not recorded any similar disease or outbreaks.’
The Health Ministry said, ‘the infection was discovered because the mink showed symptoms of the disease and farmers are obliged to report it.’ Moreover, there have been two confirmed cases of mink-to-human coronavirus transmission.
The first mink outbreaks were reported in late April with two farms holding thousands of animals each. This follows the birth-giving season of female minks that caused an increase in their populations by six times during April and May.
Initial infection was carried by a farmworker who tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in the virus spreading like wildfire to the animals. Wim van der Poel from the Wageningen University & Research said that it’s no surprise that minks got infected since it is closely related to ferrets, one of the animals that are highly susceptible to the virus.
Organ and swab tests were conducted on the animals in April, with a slight genetic variation of the virus RNA in the minks. There were also viral RNA traced in the inhalable dust, making it possible for workers to become infected as well.
In early June, Van der Pol said that antibodies from mother’s milk to pup minks may help protect them for a short while unless the virus continues to linger at the farms. ‘That could mean there’s a second wave in minks in the fall,’ he predicted.
‘Finally Coming to an End’
Animal welfare groups have been fighting for years against the inhumane pelt industry. In 2013, a law was passed to ban mink farming by 2024, closing down the country’s 120 farms. However, members of parliament voted at the end of June for the mink industry to be closed down before 2021. ‘It is a huge breakthrough.
The killing of animals for their fur in the Netherlands is finally coming to an end,” said Dutch lawmaker Esther Ouwehand. ‘Besides being morally reprehensible, mink farming is now simply untenable because it poses a threat to public health.’
Currently, the farm ministry is helping mink farmers voluntarily leave the industry before it is phased out by the law in a few years. ‘We don’t think this can become law without getting agreement from the fur farmers,’ said Mick Madsen, heading Fur Europe. If the Dutch mink industry completely dies out, the international market will be short of four million pelts.
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