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B.C. announces plan to phase out mink farms due to COVID-19 concerns

Click to play video: 'B.C. Government ending mink farming' B.C. Government ending mink farming
Following a number of COVID-19 outbreaks tied to mink farms, the B.C. Government is ordering those facilities to begin shutting down. Richard Zussman reports. – Nov 5, 2021

British Columbia will be phasing out the province’s mink-farming industry due to ongoing public-health risks associated with COVID-19.

There is now a permanent ban on breeding mink. A permanent ban on live mink farms will be in place by April 2023 with all operations ceasing completely by 2025.

Click to play video: 'B.C. announces plan to phase out mink farms in the province' B.C. announces plan to phase out mink farms in the province
B.C. announces plan to phase out mink farms in the province – Nov 5, 2021

“This decision follows the recommendations of public health officials and infectious disease experts about managing the threat of the virus for workers at the farms and the broader public,” B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said.

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“Our government will work with affected farmers and workers to help them pursue other farming, business or job opportunities that support their families.”

The decision follows BC Centre for Disease Control data that identified the potential for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to mutate in mink and be passed back to people.

Click to play video: 'Spread of COVID-19 in mink' Spread of COVID-19 in mink
Spread of COVID-19 in mink – May 19, 2021

There are also concerns that mutations could have an impact on the effectiveness of vaccines.

“Mink farming continues to be a health hazard to humans and I don’t expect that to change,” B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

Read more: B.C. cracks down on mink farms after more positive COVID-19 tests

In a statement Friday afternoon, the BC Mink Producers’ Association said it was “shocked, angered and devastated” by the decision.

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“We’ve done everything that has been asked of us. We’ve always gone above and beyond to protect our families, farms, and the public,” association president Joe Williams said.

“We are both mentally and financially exhausted from the political theatre and really wish it would end, so that we go back to providing for our families and supporting our communities.”

The provincial government has been using enhanced surveillance to monitor, inspect and mitigate COVID-19 infections in mink farms in the province.

In July, Henry placed a moratorium on any new mink farms in B.C. and capped existing operations at their current animal populations after mink at three B.C. mink farms, and workers at two farms tested positive for COVID-19.

Henry says there are still mink farms in the province that have not been able to clear COVID.

The BC SPCA and other animal rights organizations have been calling on the province to ban mink farms.

Read more: B.C. mink farm under COVID-19 quarantine

Minks are bred to be killed for their fur to make jackets, boots, and other clothing items.

The measures are in place due to the ongoing persistence of infected mink and workers at mink farms contracting SARS-CoV-2 from mink and transmitting on to broader human populations. The presence of the highly transmissible Delta variant and the threat of it being introduced in mink farms, even from vaccinated people was also of high concern to the province.

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“Public health has been monitoring and managing outbreaks related to mink farming along with the Ministry of Agriculture and WorkSafeBC, but as this remains an ongoing public health issue, we believe the risk is too great for operations to continue as they were,” Henry said.

“Public health supports government’s decision to take this action at this time for the safety of the broader population.”

The SPCA says there is no such thing as “humane,” “ethical” or “animal-friendly” fur.

“The BC SPCA is opposed to killing animals for clothing and fashion – wild animals suffer when raised on fur farms and can experience cruel deaths when killed in nature,” a statement on the BC SPCA website reads.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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