Minks Spreading COVID to Humans; Oregon May Not Be Safe

The Statesman Journal reported on Thursday, Nov. 19, that environmental groups are concerned after COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported in farmed mink in the U.S. and reports of a mutant coronavirus strain have been spreading from mink to humans in Denmark.   

Wisconsin, Utah and Michigan lead as the three largest farmed mink industries in the nation, with Oregon taking fourth place. As of Nov. 4, there were 11 mink farms across the three former states that had reported outbreaks.  

Around 3,400 farmed mink have died in Wisconsin over the past month due to the virus, and in Utah, 10,000 have died since August.   

Andrea Cantu-Schomus, communications director for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, however, told The Statesman Journal, “Currently, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to people.”  

Cantu-Schomus also assured that there have been no deaths reported for mink in Oregon yet.   

Though COVID-19 is a reportable disease in Oregon, this rule doesn’t apply to fur producers since they can’t legally diagnose diseases. Veterinarians must report, however, and Oregon’s state veterinarian has been in contact with mink farmers about the outbreaks, according to Cantu-Schomus.   

11 licensed mink farms currently reside in Oregon, with eight in Marion County, though four currently do not have any animals, and the others are located in Linn, Clackamas and Clatsop counties.   

As a result of the recent outbreaks, the World Health Organization has instructed all countries to pay special attention to mink farms for the possibility of COVID.   

COVID outbreaks in mink farms, aside from in the United States and Denmark, have also been reported in the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy, and Greece according to the WHO, and Poland has begun testing mink for the virus this week.   

In response to the issue, the Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter on Nov. 6 to officials at the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Health Authority, urging them to send inspectors to the mink farms to be proactive about a potential for COVID outbreaks in the industry.  

They wrote, “We do not wish to spread alarm; however, we are deeply concerned that these facilities could, knowingly or unknowingly, be contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in the state, or could even house or come to house new mutations of COVID-19, like the one discovered in Denmark.”  

Animal rights group Animal Wellness Action and Center for a Humane Economy also responded by sending letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urging them to quarantine mink farms across the United States, halt breeding programs, and employ a buy-out to weed-out mink farms completely.   

ODA and OHA told The Statesman Journal that they are working together to draft responses, but they do not plan on taking the groups’ recommendations.   

Animal Wellness Action and Center for a Humane Economy also wrote a letter to Gov. Kate Brown, urging her to employ a state quarantine, stop breeding programs, and coordinate on the buy-out idea with federal agencies. Brown’s office did not respond for comment from The Statesman Journal.  

“CDC guidelines recommend against testing unless there are consistent symptoms on a mink farm with a potential history of exposure,” Cantu-Schomus told The Statesman Journal. “Because Oregon has not had any reports of mortalities, the ODA is not testing at this time.” 

 She also told them, “Rather, ODA and the state veterinarian have been engaged with the Oregon mink industry providing information on biosecurity, as well as specific steps to take in order to prevent the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 into mink farms.”  

Michael Whelan, the executive director for Fur Commission in Medford wrote about the animal rights organizations: “Animal welfare is a farmer’s entire livelihood. We are taking the necessary steps, as recommended by the CDC, the USDA, and the respective state veterinarians, to protect workers and animals from the virus. Animal rights campaigners are now shamelessly trying to exploit a tragic situation to once again push their misguided political agenda.”  

By Cara Nixon