Two UK virologists yesterday called on governments to eliminate fur farming, especially mink, as a pandemic preparedness step. Thomas Peacock, PhD, and Wendy Barclay, PhD, both with Imperial College London, detailed their concerns in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
They said mink farming is more widely practiced across the world than other type of fur farming, and that some countries and regions have phased it out, mainly due to ethical concerns. However, recent SARS-CoV-2 spillover events in minks and recent H5N1 avian flu detections in foxes and minks are a reminder that fur farming can lead to the rapid spread of viruses with pandemic potential and serve as a mixing vessel for virus adaptations to humans.
At the very least, biosecurity practices and active surveillance at fur farms must be reviewed, greatly enhanced, and closely enforced.
SARS-CoV-2 continues to circulating in mink, including strains that no longer circulate in humans, posing a risk of reintroduction, they wrote. Mink, like ferrets, have cell receptors for flu viruses that are similar to humans, and they note that a 2022 H5N1 avian flu outbreak at a Spanish mink farm yielded a virus that had at least one mammalian adaptation in the polymerase gene. "In all likelihood, we narrowly escaped a larger disaster, as the incident appears to have been contained," Peacock and Barclay wrote.
Mink could provide an ample opportunity for reassortment between H5 avian flu subtypes and human-adapted flu strains, they warned. Fur farming should be in the same high-risk category as bush meat trade and live-animal markets, they concluded. "At the very least, biosecurity practices and active surveillance at fur farms must be reviewed, greatly enhanced, and closely enforced."