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B.C. mink farmer decides to destroy 1,000 animals after positive COVID-19 tests


VICTORIA — The operator of a second British Columbia mink farm with animals that tested positive for COVID-19 has euthanized the remaining 1,000 mink, says the province's chief veterinarian. 

The Fraser Valley breeder made the personal decision to put down the operation's animals after tests last month on three dead mink at the farm confirmed COVID-19, Dr. Rayna Gunvaldsen said.

The operator was not ordered by the provincial government to euthanize the animals as more tests are underway to determine the extent of the presence of COVID-19, she said.

"It was a very personal decision by the owner," Gunvaldsen said.

Eight workers tested positive at the first farm and Gunvaldsen said that's what prompted them to test the mink. 

Both operations remain under quarantine.

About 200 mink died at the first farm to test positive in B.C., which has about 15,000 mink.

"On the first farm, we were alerted humans had tested positive for COVID-19, which is why we tested animals," Gunvaldsen said in an interview. "On this second farm, we have not been aware of humans testing positive for COVID-19."

She said there are no reports of COVID-19 at B.C.'s eight other farms breeding mink.

Alan Herscovici, a spokesman for the Canada Mink Breeders Association, said imposing strict quarantine and biosecurity measures at mink farms for about two weeks appears to limit the spread of COVID-19.

"What they've found in the United States and what I think we're seeing in B.C. is that generally the virus will run its course very quickly on a mink farm," he said Tuesday in an interview.

Herscovici said the B.C. breeder who euthanized his mink acted proactively after the three positive COVID-19 tests in an effort to prevent potential risk to other farms.

"They decided the simplest way was to euthanize them all," he said.

Herscovici said the mink were not a large part of the breeder's business, which includes a major agricultural operation.

Gunvaldsen said she was awaiting further test results on the mink from the second farm but she expected the virus to be widespread.  

"We presume the entire farm is positive once we get a diagnosis," she said.

The B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called for a moratorium on mink farming in the province after COVID-19 was detected in the first Fraser Valley farm last month. 

Denmark, the world's largest supplier of mink fur, decided in November to cull all of its farmed mink, about 15 million animals, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from farm to farm and animals to humans.

Gunvaldsen said there are no reports of COVID-19 at other B.C. mink farms or current concerns about virus mutations.

"Every country and every jurisdiction really look at their own unique situation to make the decisions that are best for their country or their jurisdiction," she said.

Herscovici said containment and quarantine practices in North America appear to be working, while the mink cull that occurred in Denmark could have been an "overreaction."

There are about 60 mink farms across Canada, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2021.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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