Just what we need: a mutant mink plague
A new strain of Covid is spreading through Danish fur farms
Denmark has more mink than people. About 17 million of the weasel-like creatures (the mink, not the Danes) live out their lives on Danish fur farms. That’s an estimate that will soon have be revised downwards — to zero.
The Danish government has ordered the slaughter of the entire national mink herd. That’s not for animal welfare reasons, but to control an outbreak of Covid.
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Yes, Covid. Mink can get SARS-CoV-2 from us — and, caged up as they are, they then give it to each other. Eradication attempts have failed — hence the government order.
If you think that’s grim, then I’m afraid it gets worse. The real cause for alarm is that the virus running rampant through the mink population has mutated. It’s reported that the (human) antibody response to the virus could be weaker if faced with the mink mutant strain. And because the virus can move in the other direction — spreading from mink back into the human population, that could be bad news. For instance, a vaccine that’s effective against the standard version of the virus could be less effective against the mutant one.
Eek, as the mink might say.
But according to Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, these fears are wildly overblown:
Nevertheless, the Danish government is worried enough to kill all the mink — and, furthermore, to impose extra lockdown measures on those parts of the parts of country where the fur farms are located.
If I understand him correctly, Professor Balloux says that the enormous pool of the virus in the human population is mutating all the time anyway and thus if this process were capable of creating a super-virus then it would have happened already.
I have the merest fraction of Balloux’s expertise, but I recall from my undergrad biology that evolution is not a self-contained process for any organism, but a response to the environment it lives in and especially to the other species it interacts with. Though humans and mink are both mammals they’re also rather different. It therefore doesn’t seem impossible that a shift from one host species to the other might result in mutations that wouldn’t otherwise have happened.
Our intensive, industrialised farming of other species provides our pathogens with a series of sandboxes in which they can proliferate uninterrupted by social distancing, while getting to experience a new set of environmental conditions. If ever there was an opportunity to evolve variations that wouldn’t occur in human hosts alone, then it’s surely down on the factory farm.
The science may or may not be accurate, but the thought of a slim possibility that this order might lead to the death of the “furrier” business in Denmark gives me some consolation.
Do you speak as a vegan or a vegetarian? If not, why kill animals to eat their musculature and not kill them to wrap oneself in their skin? If you are a vegan, why again? Are we above the beasts? No? In which case, since they eat each other, why can’t we join in? Or yes? In which case, the moral standards we apply to each other do not apply to them – and they appear on our tables and on our backs all over again with no problem. The anti-fur case is the last incoherence of the animal rights madness which blights our society, and signals its decadence.
I’m neither a vegetarian, nor a vegan, but production of fur clothes seems to be very low down any humanitarian list of satisfactory reasons to factory farm animals.
I totally agree with you Ian. I am a vegetarian (30 years) but I still wear leather shoes and belts; what is the difference between fur and leather? Very little I fear and if I thought about it for too long I’d hate myself for wearing them. Awkward. Thinking on about this however why do people throw paint over the backs of harmless little old ladies wearing fur coats yet not over the leathers of 25 stone hairy bikers?
Why? They are slaughtered just as humanely as other animals; and from their point of view – in so far as their rudimentary consciousness can possess such a thing – it makes no difference: they are killed. Is keeping warm so much less of a justification than keeping a full stomach? Both are necessary to survival. And if you say that there are other ways of keeping warm then the vegan can pop up and say that there are other things to eat. You appear to be using the notion of a list, implying a certain weight of justification behind taking an animal’s life – but my questions would seem to disable such a notion. And without it, your use of the word “humanitarian” is void of power. Surely it boils down to this: these animals were brought into being for the specific purpose of being killed and used – whether as food or clothing makes no difference. Either it is right to do so or it is not; and given the incoherence of the animal rights case – see my earlier posting – it must surely be right and right in either case. Over to you.
Simon, has it occurred to you that these are wild animals that are not domesticated and cannot ever express natural behaviour when confined in a small wire cage? If that does not matter to you then there is no point trying to persuade you that intensively farming these hapless creatures is inherently cruel and wrong. The fact that this happens to produce luxury goods not even essential food makes it morally wrong at every level.
Are they any less domesticated than any livestock? And if you object to their conditions then this can be addressed without the abolition of the farms. And much of the meat we consume can be called “luxury”; so you haven’t really established the immorality in particular of this kind of farming at all – unless you support an explicitly irrational vegan position – that we are the sole animals not allowed to eat or kill other animals. Moreover, fur is not always a luxury. Some peoples of the world use it routinely as a basic mode of dress. What if someone were to purchase one of these costumes? Would it then suddenly become “immoral” because it had passed from one person to another? Your argument just doesn’t stack up, does it? Hence your recourse to implied denunciation, so typical of those who proceed from huffily self-righteous and sentimental premises: “If that does not matter to you… etc”. You seem to have imbibed a hair shirt attitude towards “luxury goods”; but I regard irrationalism and finger wagging – especially in combination – as far, far more wicked and contemptible.
You urban bunnies have absolutely no idea of the horrors of life in the wild for creatures. Most die at under a year old, few make it to reproducing, and when they do they produce a great excess of young to die horribly so two may live to breed, and then they also die horribly. I lived years in the remote lands in isolation with nature and I cannot ever really get over the absolute horror of the life of a wild thing, Want, disease, illness, injury, parasites, violence from ones kind, these are the daily life outside the few fat times of a year. Then these miseries kill them.
Farmed is just another reality, it has its good and bad sides, but is not as miserable or cruel. I mean the life of a mink. It goes about as a young thing in spring killing the young of every other small thing, then in winter it goes about killing the ones who are facing the huge hunger of winter, and in spring has its kits to kill and starve in turn, and by its second winter dies of miserable causes its self. Sounds Great, doesn’t it.
You make too much sense for a bullboard.
By that same argument you shouldn’t mind living the rest of your life in comfortable incarceration with an unvarying diet of nutritious capsules to feed on, pushed through your door twice a day, while you poo into a hole in the floor. As long as you’re warm, fed and exposed to no external risk that should surely be enough, no?
Don’t presume to foist your human standards on the animal world. Animals are well adapted to their own environments. Pretending that intensive farming is just another reality and therefore acceptable for the animal is disingenuous.
“Don’t presume to foist your human standards on the animal world.”
Isn’t that what you’ve just done Julia
maybe even more to the point, life would be just as brutal for humans and was before we figured out how to take other animals skins and use them to protect our even more vulnerable bodies from the elements and injury.
No right thinking person would wish to see humans perpetrate unnecessary torture to other animals, but equating domestication and farming of animals and the use of animal products as a part of our own strategy to improve our own lot is suspicious to me.
I think the animal rights groups are more often motivated by a hatred of humans than they are by a fondness for other animals.
No argument with your overall point but a major flaw is that you are emoting a human standards to wild creatures. I hope you would except that wild creature may not share your view. Indeed perhaps wild animals just get on with surviving with no view at all on their lot in life. I don’t know and in one way I’m glad I don’t, I’ve got enough ‘problems’ as it is. Keep safe.
Is this the same Denmark that cloaked itself in hysteria over the importation of Canadian seal products? How did it manage to hide 17M mink from those sensitive European eyes?
human Nature vs tamed Nature vs wild Nature!
Bat to lab to human to 17 million Mink. Not good
Just what is going on on Scandinavia? On October 19th reports from Trondheim Norway say they have found a new variant of the virus which they have not seen before. According to the Norwegian Institute for Public Health “We see marked changes in the surface proteins. Two changes shorten the tag. It also has a slightly important change in the area that allows the virus to bind to cells in the body.”
The real story, it seems to me, is that we have funded vaccines only targeted at the Spike protein on the coronavirus. This is the least highly conserved of all of its structural proteins and so the one that was always most likely to mutate. Whilst only S-protein vaccines would produce neutralising antibodies, vaccines against the Membrane, Envelope of Nucleocapsid proteins would be much more likely to confer long lasting T cell immunity as those target proteins are much less likely to mutate (they are also less pro-inflammatory). We seem to have spent an awful lot of money in category error on six vaccines all rendered useless on a predictable mutation of the S-protein of the coronavirus such as seems to have happened in mink. We have all our eggs in one holed basket when it comes to vaccine funding. It’s not just the money wasted, but the time, that is so tragic.
“Though humans and mink are both mammals they’re also rather different. It therefore doesn’t seem impossible that a shift from one host species to the other might result in mutations that wouldn’t otherwise have happened.”
I also don’t have expertise anywhere near that of Professor Balloux. Logically, however – and I believe this is part of his point – evolutionary pressure among mink would be toward the proliferation of SARS-CoV-2 mutations that are especially well-suited to infecting other mink (not humans).
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