HALIFAX — Canada's mink breeders are increasing safety measures on their farms to avoid the devastating COVID-19 outbreaks that have plagued their European and American counterparts.
Infections on mink farms in Europe and the United States have revealed the animals are susceptible to COVID-19. Canada's breeders are worried the pandemic could destroy the industry, which is already suffering from a drop in fur prices and losses from the Chinese market.
Merv Wiseman, vice-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fur Breeders Association, says mink farmers won't hesitate to cull their animals if an outbreak occurs on farms.
"This would be a loss that could potentially ruin an industry," Wiseman said in an interview Wednesday, adding that some breeds of minks "are irreplaceable."
Breeders in Denmark euthanized 2.5 million minks following COVID-19 outbreaks, while mink farmers in Spain culled almost 100,000. In the U.S., nearly 10,000 minks across Utah died of COVID-19 as the virus spread rapidly across farms in the state.
Canada's 70 mink farms have remained untouched by the novel coronavirus. But Wiseman said what really worries him is whether government help will be around if animals become infected and need to be killed.
"We see no commitment from the government to say that they would provide an adequate compensation package both to cover the costs of an extensive culling as well as covering ... the cost of the loss," Wiseman said.
Newfoundland and Labrador Agriculture Minister Elvis Loveless said in an email the province has "a suite of programs and services in place to support fur farmers."
Loveless also said the province was in contact with breeders "regarding susceptibility of mink to COVID-19, enhanced biosecurity measures required to protect mink ... and requests to report respiratory signs in mink for disease investigation."
Pandemic aside, the country's mink breeders have been struggling with low fur prices for the last few years, Alan Herscovici, with Canada Mink Breeders Association, said. Pelts sell for about $50 when a few years ago they hit a high of about $130, he said in an interview Wednesday.
His association sent a memo to the country's breeders last month warning them to reinforce security protocols. Farmers should avoid unnecessary contact with the mink and should stay away from the animals and their feed if they feel sick.
Matt Moses, president of the Nova Scotia Mink Breeders Association, said the industry has been feeling the effects of the pandemic since January -- when the virus was active in China.
"Our main markets are China and eastern Asia, and they were dealing with the outbreak very early in the year," he said in an interview Thursday.
The economic hit to China's retail sector coupled with subdued Chinese New Year celebrations -- an important time for mink sales -- dealt blows to Canada's industry, Moses said. Travel bans also limited in-person mink auctions, he said, adding that online sales aren't effective for such a tactile product.
He said the pandemic has delayed breeders' hopes for a rebound in the mink industry. "(The) price recovery that we were hopeful for in the industry was pushed off due to the slow retail season."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2020.
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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.