News from Sweden: “The Government Should Keep Its Promise on Mink Farms”
That is the message today from a group of veterinarians who brought up this issue five years ago. Our SvD Debatt op-ed on May 16, 2010, called on the then-Government to ensure that the Animal Welfare Act is consistent with international recommendations so that minks and chinchillas have access to their legally protected right to engage in natural behaviors. Corrections to problems that had long been known to fur farmers were urgent already at that time. Five years later, we note that minks on mink farms still live in small cages with a lack of stimulation; this is not consistent with proper animal welfare.
The Social Democrat-led Government must now ensure that mink farms are in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act and the international recommendations. Minks should long ago have been provided the opportunity to engage in natural behaviors. Minks are active predators, and their natural behavior has them ranging over large areas, hunting, climbing, and swimming. Much of their hunting behavior takes place in water. In contrast with many other animals in captivity, minks are not adapted to co-habitation; they are territorial and live one-by-one in nature. Mink farm cages far too often lead to fighting and injuries from bites. The living conditions on fur farms are very different from the lives to which minks are adapted.
Already in 1999, the Swedish Society of Veterinary Medicine sounded the alarm, pointing out that the fur industry’s treatment of minks is not compliant with the Animal Welfare Act. The Swedish Board of Agriculture has determined that the traditional fur farm cage systems have to be phased out. In 2003, a government report determined that the conditions under which minks are kept have to change. The report suggested that the mink industry no later than 2010 should have phased-out those housing conditions that lead to behavioral problems. The alternative, according to the report, should be a full or partial ban on keeping minks.
The Swedish Veterinary Association has also determined that minks on fur farms cannot engage in their natural behaviors and that this entails serious suffering. A European expert assessment has reached the same conclusion, finding that confining the animals so that they cannot climb, swim, or satisfy other important needs creates significant animal welfare protection issues and behavioral problems.
Research has shown that swimming can be very valuable for minks, enriching their environment. Access to water for swimming lets mink pups develop a wider range of play behaviors. This leads to adult minks demonstrating fewer behavioral problems. The so-called environmental enrichment implemented in 2013 by the Agriculture Board, which is supposed to be included in the current regulations, is not sufficient to prevent stress in minks. Having access to toys in small cages does not give minks sufficient opportunity to engage in natural behaviors.
A minimum requirement is that minks be permitted to live in enclosures with access to water that allows for swimming. The need for swimming water has been contested, but several studies in recent years have confirmed its importance for minks’ ability to engage in natural behaviors. More stringent regulation for keeping minks, including requirements regarding swimming water, has been implemented in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. The Social Democrats and the Greens campaigned on the promise to deliver a Government bill requiring more stringent rules for the keeping of minks. By requiring that minks be provided with more space and access to swimming water, the Government could satisfy two important paragraphs in the Animal Welfare Act the provision that animals be protected against unnecessary suffering and the provision that they be able to engage in their natural behaviors.
A new Government bill that achieves majority support in the Riksdag is urgently needed. The rules for the treatment of minks need to be updated and made more animal-friendly as soon as possible to make practices compliant with all of the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act.
Johan Beck-Friis : Licensed Veterinary Physician
Louise Hernander: Biologist with expertise in ethology and animal welfare
Johan Lindsjö: Licensed Veterinary Physician
Sivert Lindström: Professor Emeritus of Cell Biology
Olle Rydell: Licensed Veterinary Physician, County Veterinarian
Sverre Sjölander: Professor Emeritus of Zoology