At least 200 mink are dead following a COVID-19 outbreak at a fur farm in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.
While the coronavirus is the likely cause of death, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture told CTV News that testing is still underway.
The 200 dead animals represent about 1.3 per cent of the roughly 15,000 mink on the farm, and it’s unclear how many others may have caught the virus.
“The majority of the mink on the farm do not appear to be showing symptoms, and we understand (the) mortality rate has slowed in recent days,” the ministry said in an emailed statement.
The government has refused to divulge the name of the farm, unlike a number of poultry plants and other B.C. businesses that have experienced outbreaks. On Friday, the ministry cited “public safety reasons” for the decision to keep the company name private.
Last weekend, the local health authority confirmed eight workers at the farm had tested positive for COVID-19. The property has since been placed under quarantine.
Dr. Jan Hajek, an infectious disease specialist from the University of British Columbia, told CTV News the transmission of coronavirus between humans and animals is “very concerning,” noting mutations that were detected at a mink farm in Denmark.
While the virus already mutates going between humans, Hajek said bringing mink into the equation is an added concern.
“The risk is that it replicates through these mink and then comes back to us as a new infection, or an alternative infection, perhaps similar to influenza where you have bird flu or swine flu,” Hajek said.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry raised similar concerns at her COVID-19 briefing on Monday.
Given the possible risks, Hajek suggested that culling the animals, as Denmark did some 17 million mink last month, would “make sense.”
“I could see it happening,” he added. “The response depends on our resources, our risk tolerance, and … societal values.”
Animal rights advocates at the Fur-Bearers have been campaigning against mink farms in light of the B.C. outbreak and others in Europe, arguing the animals are generally kept in “conditions that promote the quick spread or mutation of viruses” and pose a unique risk during the pandemic.
The organization told CTV News it has gathered more than 2,000 signatures on a national petition urging the federal government to create a program helping fur farm owners to transition out of the industry into green businesses.
Earlier this week, the Canadian Mink Breeders Association said a cull would be unnecessary and that quarantining, as farms have done in the U.S., would be sufficient.
“Within about two weeks, almost all the mink will have antibody immunity, and will be immune, and it’ll pass,” spokesperson Alan Herscovici said. “Canada, in fact, is one of the last producing countries where we see any cases, so obviously the farmers are taking care.”
With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Maria Weisgarber