Finland orders mass killing of 70,000 mink and foxes after bird flu outbreak

Obese foxes with infections at Finnish fur farm
Obese foxes at fur farms in Finland, photo: screenshot from video Oikeutta eläimille and Humane Society International/Europe

The food authority in Finland announced on Wednesday that 70,000 farmed mink and foxes across three fur farms would be killed after some of the animals got infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu. 

The virus has been detected at 21 fur farms in the country, with samples from other fur farms currently under examination. “The situation is critical,” the Finnish food authority said, explaining that minks present a unique danger in the spread of bird flu. The species can facilitate the mutation of the virus into a form capable of infecting humans.

This decision puts Finland’s fur farming industry in the global spotlight, reigniting animal welfare, ethical and health concerns debates. Finland is Europe’s top fur producer and second globally after China. Last year, undercover footage revealed the horrible conditions in which animals are kept in the country for the fashion industry. 

“Fur farming should have been banned in Finland by now, and I think it is shameful that this has not yet been done,” expressed Finnish MP Mai Kivela, reflecting a growing sentiment across the European Union. With over 1.7 million signatures, the European Citizens’ Initiative “Fur Free Europe” calls for an EU-wide ban on fur farms and products.

Fourteen EU nations, including Norway, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, have already outlawed fur farming. This trend leaves Finland increasingly isolated, particularly since other political parties in the country, including the former Prime Minister’s Social Democratic Party, have shown support for a fur-farming ban. The industry, however, continues to have considerable influence due to its million-euro status in Finland’s economy.

Finland’s record H5N1 outbreaks this year have had devastating effects on wildlife, killing thousands of wild birds, including seagulls. Biologist Tuomas Aivelo of the University of Helsinki explained that the highly infectious H5N1 strain originated from East Asian poultry farms in 1996, eventually reaching wild birds.

The story of H5N1 is not a “natural” one but a problem “created by the power production of modern food,” Aivelo clarified. “In the past (to our knowledge), bird flu has not spread so widely in wild populations and caused such high mortality (as it does now),” Aivelo said. “The intensive production of birds has created a threat for itself.”

Aivelo also raised alarms over permits issued by the Finnish Wildlife Agency to kill wild birds, including a locally vulnerable species, around fur farms. “The culling of wild (healthy) birds to prevent the spread of avian influenza does not make sense at all,” Aivelo firmly stated.

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