Eyebrows raised over mink trade claims

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2009:


HALIFAX–Photographers who have tried to focus on caged mink
know they are in constant motion, even within a wire box barely
bigger than they are. Anyone who ever handled a mink knows they are
slippery as a mammal can be, likely to wriggle in any direction and
inflict a deep bite to any exposed flesh. Fur farmers usually handle
live mink only to kill them, and wear heavy gloves when they do.

Thus Brian Medel of the Yarmouth Bureau of the Halifax
Chronicle Herald raised an eyebrow when he read on the Aria Cosmetics
Signature Mink Eyelashes web site that their products “are made of
individually selected mink fur hairs that have been harvested by
gently brushing live farm animals.”
Medel called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
director of media relations Michael McGraw for a second opinion.
Understated McGraw, when he stopped laughing, “It’s very
difficult to believe that mink are gently brushed to source this
fur.” But even if they were, mink eyelashes sold at $100 to $250 a
set– 10% of the price of a typical mink coat–wouldn’t save fur farm
profits, going into a second consecutive winter of anticipated
restrained consumer spending.
The bad news about world mink production, for people who
care about animals, is that about 43 million mink pelts will be
marketed during the 2009-2010 “fur season,” three million more than
20 years ago.
The good news is that this will be down about 15% from the 49
million mink pelts offered on the world market in 2008-2009, when
oversupply caused U.S. fur farm receipts to fall 38%. Also of note
is that mink pelt sales were in free fall 20 years ago, after
doubling from 24 million ten years before.
Twenty years ago mink industry pundits predicted that soon
U.S. and European retail fur sales would soar again, and that the
newly affluent populations of post-Soviet Russia, China post-Mao tse
Tung, and the booming Pacific Rim nations would send fur demand to
unprecedented heights.
The arrival of the new Russian and Asian markets has
coincided with the global center of the fur trade shifting eastward.
China has led the world in mink production for several years now–but
total global production and demand has remained flat, even as the
number of people in the usual fur-buying age and income bracket has
approximately doubled.
More bad news for North American mink farmers is that the
mink industry is increasingly becoming identified as a pollution
source and potential disease vector. Clean-up requirements and fines
for noncompliance are cutting further into profits, accelerating the
shift of the industry to the less regulated hinterlands of China.
“The Fuhrmann Mink Farm in Wisconsin, for example, closed
after testing the well water near their operation revealed a high
concentration of nitrates,” summarized Fur-Bearer Defenders, of
Vancouver, British Columbia. “The cost to clean it up, according
to one source, would run into seven figures.”
On September 15, 2009, according to a press release from
the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office, Fuhrmann Mink Farm Inc.
agreed to pay a fine of $15,000 and “replace or offer to replace
seven neighboring wells that produced water with high nitrate levels.”
Said the Fond du Lac Reporter, “Thus far, five wells have
been replaced. Furhmann has offered to replace a sixth, and if it
replaces a seventh well, it will pay $10,000 in forfeitures, fees
and costs. People expecting or caring for infants are advised to
have their wells tested for nitrate,” the Fond du Lac Reporter
continued, because exposure can cause blue-baby syndrome.
Founded in 1956 by Eugene “Butch” Fuhrmann, who died in
April 2008, the Fuhrmann Mink Farm was among the oldest still
U.S. pollution law enforcement may have encouraged the rapid
growth of mink farming in Newfoundland and Labrador during the past
decade, from under 1,000 breeding mink in 2001 to 60,000 in 2007,
but a May 2008 investigation by researchers from the Dalhousie
University School for Resource and Environmental Studies warned that
“Due to the overall lack of enforcement of waste management
practices, mink farming has become what some consider a
non-controlled industry.” The report was commissioned by the
provincial Department of Natural Resources “after neighbors of some
farms complained about odours and flies,” said CBC News.
The susceptibility of mink to influenza, however, is more
likely to inhibit continued mink industry growth in China–the nation
from which all major global flu pandemics have emerged, and the
nation hardest hit by all of them. As many as a million Chinese died
from the most recent major pandemic, erupting in June 1968. This
was the first identified emergence of the H3N2 strain, most recently
seen in an outbreak discovered on September 28, 2009 at a mink farm
in Holstebro North, Denmark. Eighty mink died.
“H3N2 infections in mink have been known since at least the
mid-1980s,” summarized a four-member panel of experts on the ProMed
electronic bulletin board of the International Society for Infectious
Mink are hardly the only animal vector, the panel explained:
“Swine in Europe have been infected for decades with an H3N2, and an
H3N2 swine strain became a prominent virus in the North American
swine population in 1998. H3N2 has been isolated from turkeys in the
The U.S. human population is believed to be relatively safe
from H3N2, as this is “part of the current 2009-2010 vaccine for
seasonal flu in humans,” the panel continued, but “a new H3N2
variant not included in the vaccine emerged at about the same time as
the novel pandemic H1N1 [swine flu variant occurring mainly in
humans] last spring.
“As is the case with H1N1,” the ISID panel concluded, “it
is critically important to do surveillance…The key to this is
comprehensive, integrated outbreak investigations in geographically
co-located animal and human subpopulations.”
In other words, watch out for flu viruses escaping from mink
farms, including via their effluents.

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