Commentary: Blackburn and Hagerty need to support mink-farming ban

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper has led efforts to keep Tennesseans safe from COVID variants

February 8, 2022 6:00 am
mink farm. Photographer: Carsten Snejbjerg/Bloomberg

Empty wire cages at a mink farm. Photographer: Carsten Snejbjerg/Bloomberg

This week, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, helped shepherd a key amendment to end the factory farmed production of minks to passage in the House of Representatives.

In doing so, he not only stood against needless cruelty to animals, but also for all of us in protecting humans against the next new emerging zoonotic disease. Mink are uniquely susceptible to the virus and captive mink on fur farms have already spilled back a mutated form in Denmark and the Netherlands.  It will happen here if we don’t do something about it.

The amendment Cooper joined, along with Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Nancy Mace, R-S.C., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Andy Levin, D-Mich., and Joe Neguse, D-Colo. mirrors the Minks In Narrowly Kept Spaces (MINKS) Are Superpreaders Act, and bans the possession of mink “raised in captivity for fur production,” stopping the routine misery of animals on around 60 farms that have anywhere from a few thousand to 100,000 mink kept in cages.

Scientists and public health authorities recognize the health risks are far too great to allow this kind of major cruelty and minor commerce to persist. These American mink farmers almost exclusively export the pelts to elite customers in the People’s Republic of China. In short, our nation is raising mink on factory farms, and taking the risk of an emerging variant, all to supply a small number of Chinese elites with a luxury garment.

The Center for a Humane Economy’s 102-page report entitled “Mink Farming & SARS-CoV-2,” by former USDA infectious disease expert Jim Keen, D.V.M., Ph.D., details the public health risk associated with mink farms. In practical terms, there are just two species that contract the virus in large numbers and spill it back to other species – humans and mink.

There have been outbreaks of COVID-19 at 450 mink farms in North America and Europe, spawning at least three variants. The environment in which factory farmed mink are raised “maximizes chances for intraspecific aggression, viral infections, and mutations,” according to Keen. And as a result, for public health and safety, jurisdictions including Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and British Columbia have eliminated mink farming as an act of mercy for animals and a bulwark against the emergence of a new variant. The U.S. response is lagging and it’s time to turn that around.

Mink are uniquely susceptible to the COVID-19 virus and captive mink on fur farms have already spilled back a mutated form in Denmark and the Netherlands.  It will happen here if we don’t do something about it.

In recent years, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and every other major fashion retailer, along with the biggest names in design, have ceased fur sales and have acknowledged that confining and factory farming a wild species like mink in cramped, barren cages with little to no room to move around, is clearly archaic and inhumane. We have a wide range of alternatives and real fur has no practical value any longer.

Cooper has also been a champion of animal issues more broadly as well. He bravely joined Reps. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, and Steve Cohen, D-Memphis – against the rest of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation – in voting for the U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act in 2019 that would bring an end to sixty-year plague of soring Tennessee Walking Horses, and he’s a cosponsor of the Greyhound Protection Act that would shutter the last remaining tracks in the U.S., as well as the SAFE Act that would permanently ban horse slaughter on U.S. soil.

He joined in leading a funding amendment in 2021 that would provide resources to streamline the CDC’s dog import processes, and recently signed a letter to the U.S. Postal Service Inspector calling on the USPS to crackdown against illegal cockfighting shipments we discovered in our 2020 Tennessee cockfighting investigation.

And Cooper’s focused work on mink this week marks the very first time in history that Congress has taken up legislation to crack down on factory farmed animals, no mind looked at ending the entire category of animal exploitation. It parallels a broadly popular effort to end fur farming in Europe.

As fashion trends have changed over the last few decades so has our arcane attitudes towards the animals that share our planet. Fur farming is an antiquated and barbaric practice that has no place in a civilized world. The combination of animal welfare hazards and viral risks does indeed warrant the attention of the nation.

We are going to miss Jim Cooper in Congress as he retires but applaud his continued work for the voiceless we all care so deeply about. Now it’s time for the Senate to help enact the ban on mink production, and U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, and Bill Haggerty, R-Gallatin, should put their shoulder into this effort to prevent new COVID variants from decimating the Volunteer State.

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Marty Irby
Marty Irby

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., and an eight-time World Champion equestrian who was named as one of The Hill's Top Lobbyists for 2019 and 2020, and was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect horses. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @MartyIrby.