Fur farming presents a high risk to public health, a new report shows
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to an important debate regarding the role of animals kept and killed on fur farms as reservoirs of pathogens and zoonoses. The report Fur Farming and Public Health dives into the latest scientific evidence, identifying and confirming the potential role of farmed fur animals in the emergence of future pandemics of human respiratory disease.
While the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 has not yet been confirmed, recent studies suggest that the virus was introduced to humans in zoonotic transmission events at the Huanan market in Wuhan.
The first case in Europe of SARS-CoV-2 infection in mink was reported in the Netherlands in April 2020. After this, SARS-CoV-2 has been detected on fur farms in Denmark, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Greece, France, Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia. Despite the adoption of biosecurity measures, new outbreaks couldn’t be avoided.
In fact, a third outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 in an Italian mink farm has recently been announced by the World Organization for Animal Health following the ban on breeding that entered into force on January 1 2022. Due to a delay by the Italian Minister of agriculture, food sovereignty and forests, more than 5,000 mink were still present in closed fur farms, with 1,523 mink recently culled due to the outbreak.
The report suggests that, although the spread of COVID-19 happens mostly by human-to-human transmission, the establishment of a reservoir in fur farms and/or wildlife could undermine efforts to combat the virus. Moreover, it has been suggested that fur-farmed species could act as ‘mixing vessels’ for human, avian and swine influenza viruses, fostering the emergence of future pandemics. An aggravating point when it comes to farmed fur animals is that influenza infections may occur with minimal or no clinical signs, thus contributing to a permanent circulation of human and avian influenza viruses.
The report’s highlights
The current housing system used in fur farms combines several factors that makes them uniquely risky for public health. Some of these factors are:
- High density of animals confined in adjacent cages
- High concentration of farms in specific geographical areas
- Low genetic diversity of the animals
- Poor manure handling systems
- Use of animal species highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2
- Open-sided housing, which facilitates contact with wild/feral animals
- Lack of systematic surveillance of circulating influenza viruses
Vaccination programmes do not suffice to tackle the public health risk coming from fur farms. While it is not clear if vaccination can reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and/or influenza A viruses, recent findings have suggested that vaccines are unable to eliminate transmission entirely.
Considering the above mentioned risks and the non-essential nature of fur products, the legitimation of keeping fur production cannot be justified.