B.C. is going to permanently end mink farming in the province because they create too much risk for spreading the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, officials announced Friday.
The Ministry of Agriculture made the decision to phase out the farms over the next two years based on data, which shows mink are "reservoirs" for spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus to humans and will be an ongoing danger to public health.
"We know that this is a very challenging day for those farms, but ... we know that it was in the best interest of public health that this decision was made," Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said during a news conference.
Breeding mink is now banned across the province. Keeping live mink on farms will be prohibited by April 2023.
All mink farm operations must be shut down, with all of the pelts sold, by April 2025.
Mink are ferret-like animals that are farmed around the world for their fur. There are around 60 mink farms across the country, according to the Fur Council of Canada.
Majority of existing mink already headed for euthanasia
In B.C., there are 318,000 mink spread across nine mink farms, all located in the Fraser Valley.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said "the vast majority" of the existing mink are ready to be euthanized for their pelts, given the time of year.
Some mink, though, are usually kept on farms as breeding stock. Farms with mink left alive after the pelting season "might choose" to cull the animals, according to Popham, but "those decisions haven't been made yet."
Henry said data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control shows the risk of transmission will exist for years to come.
"Mink farming continues to be a health hazard in my opinion and the opinion of my public health colleagues," she said Friday.
In July, B.C. placed a moratorium on new mink farms and capped existing farms at their current numbers after two more of the animals tested positive for the virus.
Three of the nine farms in B.C. have seen animals test positive for COVID-19. One farm remains in quarantine.
Last year, roughly 200 mink died on a farm over the course of a week after the first mink farm outbreak. At least 12 people have also tested positive linked to farm outbreaks.
Popham said the decision to shut the farms down was made solely on the basis of public health and not in response to any concerns around animal cruelty.