LOGAN – It’s been a rough couple of years for Utah fur farmers. Prices are down and many have gone out of business because of over production. Adding to their troubles, last month animal rights activists are back at it. They claimed responsibility for releasing approximately 2,000 mink and vandalizing fur farms in Northern Utah and Southern Idaho in mid-September.
Michael Whelan, the executive director of Fur Commission USA, confirmed the release of mink by the activist and said most of the mink stayed near their nesting boxes.
“All the mink released came from farms that had not tested positive for coronavirus and 90 percent were recaptured,” Whelan said. “When the animals are released, they don’t want to leave the farm.”
He said the mink may go to the roads if they hear traffic because traffic noises sound the same has a tractor that feeds them. So, they may head to the road where they get hit by vehicles.
“I would like to assure the public that there is minimal chance mink can infect humans,” he said. “The mink caught the COVID from laborers that had the disease,” Whalen said. “But it effects the older mink and within four or five days some mink are cleared.”
When COVID-19 infected the mink, it killed nearly thousands of them in Utah County; none of mink were euthanized. Like any livestock owner, mink ranchers are not happy their animals are sick, but they have taken the proper precautions and want to assure the public that they pose no threat to humans, the executive director said.
“They found the virus started with workers who spread it to other workers who were socializing after work,” he said. “The farmers are making sure the employees are tested.”
All the farmers in the state are hunkering down trying to get through the season.
“Most of the ranchers do what they can to prevent diseases,” Whelan said. “I expect other farms to have no problems.”
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) corroborated Whelan’s version of the infection. USDA officials said humans working on the farm were infected with COVID-19 in July. They were likely the ones who transferred the virus to the animals — there are no signs that the mink infected any workers.
The Fur Commission USA reported more than 85% of pelts used in the world’s fur trade come from small, family-run farms. There are approximately 275 mink farms in 23 states across the USA and they produce about 3 million pelts annually, with a value of more than $300 million USD (2013).
Wisconsin is the leading mink-producing state, generating well over 1 million pelts. Other important producers are Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Minnesota.