Discovery of COVID-19 in mink is red flag for WI fur farmers

Wisconsin State Farmer
A mink at Sandy Bay Mink Ranch

A warning to mink farmers around the world has been sounded by officials in the Netherlands after mink tested positive for COVID-19.

Carola Schouten, the Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, announced the first confirmed cases after mink on two fur farms tested positive for the virus. The farms have since been put into quarantine.

As a precaution, people have been advised not to walk or ride a bike within 400 meters of the two farms.

According to a news release, the mink, which were tested after displaying signs of respiratory distress, were tested for the virus. Netherlands officials say the animals contracted the illness from farm workers that had shown symptoms of the virus.

While this is the first incidence in which animals have tested positive, the virus has also been discovered in some pets and zoo animals around the world after being infected by their caretakers.

According to Reuters, the towns where the farms are located, Germert-Bakel and Laarbeek, are both in the southern Noord Brabant province of the Netherlands which has seen the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak.

Although the risk of animal-to-human infection is low, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment cautioned those working in the mink farming industry to "be careful".

In this Jan. 7, 2020, photo, Steve Smies prepares "show samples" with a group of mink pelts at Saga Furs, one of only two other similar-sized fur auction houses in Stoughton, Wis. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

This warning is especially critical for Wisconsin mink farmers, as the state is noted for being the largest mink pelt producing state in the U.S., with more than 50 mink farms.

Sheboygan County, home to some of the largest mink farms in the country, has dozens of confirmed cases of COVID-19. On fur farms in Wisconsin, thousands of mink are packed into small wire cages. Disease can spread quickly.

Following the discovery of the COVID-19 infected mink, the Dutch government announced a reporting requirement for mink farmers. Mink showing respiratory problems and/or increased mortality must be reported.

"Mink confined on fur farms are wild animals. It has now been confirmed that the COVID-19 virus has the potential to infect wildlife in North America," said Nick Atwood, an animal rights activist in Minneapolis who has been following the fur farming industry for years. "The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture must institute a reporting requirement for mink farmers. People working with mink should take extra precautions against virus transmission."