HSVMA Statement on Fur-Farmed Animals and the Risk of Disease

As experts in the field of animal health and welfare, we acknowledge severe animal welfare deficiencies inherent in the fur trade, including the ways in which the animals are cruelly trapped, housed and killed.  And the CDC now estimates that as many as three-quarters of new or emerging diseases in humans come from animals. Amid the current global pandemic, public health concerns about the spread of zoonotic diseases, particularly viral infections, have become heightened. As veterinary professionals, we also have a strong working knowledge of disease transmission through susceptible animal populations, as well as an understanding of contagious disease spread between animal species and humans.

More than 100 million wild animals worldwide, including mink, foxes, and raccoon dogs, are killed for their fur every year.  The majority (around 85%) are raised intensively on battery-cage fur factory farms.  Similar to the confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) used for species such as chickens, cows and pigs raised for intensive meat production, these fur farms can serve as breeding grounds for zoonotic and other diseases.

The living conditions in high-density fur operations fail to satisfy many of the most basic needs essential for the animals’ mental well-being; thus, farmed fur-bearing animals are more likely to exhibit stereotypical behaviors and cannibalism.  Not only are these captive wild animals highly stressed and thus immune-compromised, but they are crowded into close contact with each other’s respiratory secretions and excrement.  Fur farms also lack naturally mitigating factors—such as abundant sunlight, ventilation, genetic variability, and healthy distance between animals. For these reasons, fur farms provide potential channels for diseases to propagate from one fur-bearing species to another, and conditions in which viruses may genetically recombine into forms potentially virulent to humans.

Mink, foxes and raccoon dogs are susceptible to infection with Sars-CoV-related viruses. Mink on two fur farms in the Netherlands were recently confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19.  At both farms, mink are thought to have been infected by human caregivers, but the threat of further transmission continues. Historically, foxes and raccoon dogs have both tested positive for SARS. As species known to be able to become infected with SARS-CoV-related viruses, foxes and raccoon dogs may also be susceptible to COVID-19.