Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) commends today’s filing of the Mink Facility Disease Prevention Act, which would end mink farming in Illinois to protect human health.
Sponsored by State Senate Assistant Majority Leader Linda Holmes, S.B. 3262 recognizes that mink on fur farms incubate diseases such as COVID-19 and avian influenza, creating the perfect conditions for new variants to jump to humans — with potentially devastating results. The handful of mink farms in Illinois would be required to cease operations by Jan. 1, 2025.
Due to the physiological similarities between human and mink upper respiratory tracts, mink can become infected by — and potentially transmit — some of the same respiratory viruses that affect people. Moreoever, mink can serve as potent “mixing vessels” for generating novel pandemic viruses.
“There is no practical way to operate a mink farm without creating a petri dish that could produce the next pandemic virus,” said Susan Millward, AWI’s executive director and chief executive officer. “We must listen to the scientists sounding the alarm: Mink farms risk worsening the current pandemic and ushering in the next one. It’s time to close the chapter on this declining industry. By passing this bill, Illinois can become a leader in combatting this threat to public health.”
Mink farms raise and slaughter animals to sell their pelts to the fashion industry. They typically pack thousands of mink together in long rows of barren pens barely large enough for them to move around. The conditions not only are inhumane, they also create an ideal setting for pathogens to circulate among and across species.
COVID-19, in fact, has infected millions of farmed mink on more than 480 mink farms across 12 countries. In several instances, mink have passed a mutated form of this virus back to humans. New variants can emerge in such scenarios, undermining the effectiveness of vaccines and jeopardizing efforts to contain the pandemic.
A deadly avian influenza virus (H5N1) has also infected tens of thousands of mink on dozens of fur farms since 2022. During an October 2022 outbreak on a mink farm in Spain, the virus mutated in a way that enabled it to spread between mink. Prior to this, mammals had primarily contracted the virus through direct contact with infected birds, not from infected mammals. H5N1 infections have also been detected at multiple mink farms in Finland since last summer, demonstrating the potential for this dangerous virus to continue causing outbreaks on mink farms and raising the specter that it will mutate into a form transmissible to and between humans.
Fur farming has been banned or is being phased out in several other European countries, including the Netherlands, Ireland, and Norway, due to concerns about animal welfare, the spread of COVID-19, or both. Closer to home, California prohibited all fur sales in 2019, and lawmakers in Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Washington have introduced legislation that would ban fur sales or production.
Recently, AWI and other animal protection and conservation groups sent an urgent letter to Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek and state officials to fast-track the phasing out of commercial mink farming across Oregon due to the threats to public health and wildlife.
Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
[email protected], (202) 446-2128
The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.