Government officials inspected every mink farm in B.C. this fall to ensure that all measures are being taken to ensure the virus that causes COVID-19 does not pass between animals and humans.
“Ministry of Agriculture staff have been in contact with the province’s licensed mink farms within the last several months to ensure that all necessary precautions are being taken to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 through human to animal or animal to human transmission,” the ministry said.
The virus SARS-CoV2 is a reportable disease in farm animals under the Animal Health Act.
To date, no infections have been reported in mink here in B.C., but farmers are being cautious after Denmark ordered millions of farmed mink destroyed to quell an outbreak after a mutated form of the virus was detected in mink on a handful of farms and in 12 people.
“B.C. mink farmers are also being proactive in their response to this situation and have enacted increased sanitation and enhanced biosecurity measures,” the ministry said.
When COVID-19 first appeared on mink farms in Europe, the Canada Mink Breeders Association gave local producers enhanced biosecurity guidelines, according to industry spokesman Alan Herscovici.
The virus can be contracted by mink, ferrets, hamsters, cats and other mammals, he noted.
Stray cats in the area of Denmark where mink production is concentrated were found to have antibodies for COVID-19, meaning they had contracted the virus and may have spread it to farmed minks.
The risk of feral cats transmitting the virus to farmed minks in Canada is “most likely very low,” according to a risk analysis by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Feral cats are also relatively unlikely to spread the virus to other wildlife with the exception of other feral cats, they said.
“It is also important to note that the conditions of mink farming are very different in Canada than in Europe. In Denmark, for example, the farms are much larger and more concentrated geographically,” said Herscovici.
In Denmark, feed is produced in central locations and transported to farms by trucks that visit multiple farms each day, “so the potential for contagion is much greater,” he said.
By contrast, mink farms in B.C. are much more spread out and industry is less than a tenth the size of Denmark’s. There are 14 mink farms in the Fraser Valley.
Feed for mink grown in B.C. is prepared on the farm from byproducts of egg, chicken and fish processing, said mink farmer Joseph Williams, president of the B.C. Mink Producers Association, in a YouTube video .
“Canadian mink farms have biosecurity measures in place to prevent the transmission of infections from wildlife or other farms,” said Herscovici.
Only necessary staff have access to the barns where animals live. Staff that work directly with the animals change clothing, masks and gloves after working with the animals, he said.
If staff feel unwell, they may not enter the production area until they have been tested and confirmed to be free of the virus.
Sick mink are reported to the provincial chief veterinary officer, who decides what measures should be taken, he added.