China sees opportunity in the killing of millions of mink in other countries

Killed mink at a farm in Denmark, photo: Reuters/Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
Killed mink at a farm in Denmark, photo: Reuters/Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen

As millions of mink have been killed in Europe and the United States because they could spread the coronavirus, Chinese mink farms have started breeding more mink to take advantage of a rise in global fur prices.

Mink farms in China see an opportunity to expand their business, even though a worldwide ban on mink farms would prevent a possible new vaccine-resistant strain from emerging.

Authorities in Denmark started slaughtering an estimated 15-17 million animals in early November after some tested positive for a mutated form of the coronavirus.

Beijing has shown a zero-tolerance approach to new infection risks, tracking imported frozen meat and seafood and locking down communities whenever new transmissions happen.

But China has taken little action against its mink farms, which researchers say number around 8,000 and hold about 5 million animals.

Animal welfare groups around the world have urged a ban on fur farming, saying the COVID-19 pandemic proves intensive captive breeding is not only cruel but also dangerous to human health.

“When it comes to public health risks, these farms and markets are much like the live animal market in Wuhan where the novel coronavirus is widely believed to have originated,” said Jason Baker, Senior Vice President at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

“Filthy fur farms are packed with sick, stressed, and injured animals and are breeding grounds for disease,” he continued.

Studies also suggest mink are particularly sensitive to coronavirus infection and could transmit the virus back into humans.

“Having these mink farms is a big risk because it makes it much more difficult to manage the epidemic and creates such big reservoirs of susceptible hosts,” said Francois Balloux, a geneticist with University College London and co-author of a recent paper on COVID-19 transmission in minks.

Chinese mink suppliers and traders who had been struggling in recent years due to declining overseas demand are already benefiting from other countries killing their mink for public health.

“It felt great,” said Wang He, a Shangcun trader and breeder, whose earnings increased 30-50% when the price of mink fur jumped after Denmark ordered the cull.

In April, the government said mink, arctic fox and raccoon would be classified as “special livestock” rather than wildlife, and would therefore be exempt from the countries’ wildlife trading ban.

Many Chinese farmers were considering abandoning the business altogether, said Zhao Yangang, another mink trader. “They were preparing to stop rearing, but now the markets started to move like this, they’ve started breeding again,” he said.

Mink have a great need for hunting, swimming and diving in water. The animals become so stressed over their unnatural life in a cage at a mink farm that many develop compulsive behaviors and hurt themselves or their cubs in frustration. 

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