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Explainer: What is the future of fur farming in Ireland?

The government has said it will draft legislation to phase out fur farming.

Image: Shutterstock/Lynsey Grosfield

EARLIER TODAY, IT was announced that all farmed minks in Ireland will be culled over the coming weeks.

This is a precautionary measure after a coronavirus variant was discovered in Danish mink farms.

Denmark, a huge exporter of mink fur, ordered a cull of all minks on 4 November over fears the mutated virus could threaten the effectiveness of any future Covid-19 vaccine for humans.  

Yesterday, Denmark’s agriculture minister Mogens Jensen resigned following criticism of his handling of the cull of the country’s 15 to 17 million minks. He said last week that this order had no legal basis. 

In Ireland, it’s understood that the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan wrote to Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue to recommend the cull. 

Mink owners will be compensated in the short-term, but they will not be able to replace the animals, it is understood. The owners will receive a wider compensation package in the future. 

Let’s look ahead to the future of fur farming in Ireland and the government’s plans to end the practice over time. 

How many mink farms are in Ireland? 

There are currently three mink farms in Ireland located in Donegal, Laois and Kerry. 

Between them, the farms breed and kill around 110,000 mink a year, according to the Department of Agriculture. 

What will happen to the minks now? 

The Department of Agriculture said today it is working with public health authorities and operators of Irish mink farms to address potential coronavirus risks. 

The mink herd in Ireland has been tested for the coronavirus, but so far no positive results have been recorded.

No mink farm workers or their families have tested positive for Covid-19 either. 

The department added that the Department of Health said the continued practice of mink farming “represents an ongoing risk of additional mink-adapted SARS-CoV-2 variants emerging”. 

As a result, it recommended that all farmed mink should be culled. 

The department said it is engaging with mink farmers to “consider the next steps”. 

Are there other fur farms in Ireland? 

No, the three mink farms in operation are the only fur farms left in Ireland. The number of fur farms reduced from four to three in 2014, according to the Department of Agriculture last year

In 2011, a review group was set up to examine fur farming in Ireland and it did not recommend banning the industry.

The department put in more rigorous controls on fur farms in areas like animal welfare and inspections in 2012 after the group published its report. 

Other animals farmed for fur abroad include chinchillas, foxes and rabbits. 

What has the government said it will do about fur farming? 

The Cabinet in the previous government agreed in June 2019 to phase out fur farming in Ireland. 

The Programme For Government outlines that the current government will “immediately prioritise” the drafting of legislation to phase out fur farming. It said legislation in this area would be published “as soon as possible”. 

The Prohibition of Fur Farming Bill 2018 was put forward by TDs Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy and Mick Barry. It got to the first stage in the Dáil but lapsed with the dissolution of the previous government earlier this year. 

A new Bill has not yet been put forward by the current government, but Minister Charlie McConalogue said on Tuesday that his department will begin to prepare a Bill “in due course”. 

He said the Bill will “provide for the phased introduction of a ban on fur farming which will include a prohibition on mink farming”. 

McConalogue responded in writing to TD Mick Barry on this issue in the Dáil.

“The Bill will make it illegal for any new fur farms to be established and will put in place phase out arrangements for the small number of current operators,” McConalogue wrote. 

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Testing of animals on the three mink farms in Ireland was initiated earlier this month, but as of today all results received were negative.

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has called for wild mink to be included in the cull. There are up to 33,500 wild mink in Ireland, according to a 2009 government review.

“If a cull is to take place on the three mink farms in Ireland, then we must take the opportunity to eradicate the mink in the wild,” Fitzmaurice said in a statement. 

The wild mink in Ireland became established after escaping or being released from farms decades ago. They are a scourge on the countryside, particularly when it comes to lambs and native birds.

What is the situation in other countries, like Denmark?

Fur farming is banned in many European countries like Belgium and Croatia. Fur farming has also been banned in the UK (including in Northern Ireland) since the early 2000s. 

Mink farming is a huge industry in Denmark, with three times more mink in the country than people. 

Denmark sells around €670 million worth of mink fur each year and is the world’s second-biggest producer behind China. 

Despite the fears over the mink-associated coronavirus strain, the Danish health ministry said today that the mutated version has likely been eradicated. 

The ministry said in a statement that there had been no new cases of the ‘cluster 5′ mink mutation since 15 September, leading the Danish infectious disease authority to conclude it has been eradicated. 

Scientists have said that it’s not unusual for viruses to mutate and the process rarely poses an additional threat.

But the strain known as ‘cluster 5′ could be less susceptible to human antibodies, initial Danish studies showed.

“If these new SARS-CoV-2 variants, with lower susceptibility to neutralizing antibodies, spread widely in the population it could potentially affect the level of overall vaccine effectiveness,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said.

But the agency highlighted that there is “high uncertainty” about the actual level of danger and “further investigations are required regarding the nature of these mutations”.

‘Cluster 5′ is one of five coronavirus mutations detected among mink, but the others are not seen as problematic. 

With reporting by AFP

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