Netherlands may end fur farming four years before ban takes effect
LIMBURG, Netherlands; SIOUX CITY, Iowa––The good news, if it could be called that, about the scheduled massacre of as many as 30,000 ranched mink on June 6, 2020 is that it may put 10 mink farms owned by eight companies permanently out of business, four years before a national ban on mink farming takes effect in 2024.
The cull was ordered by Dutch health minister Hugo DeYoung and agriculture minister Carola Schouten after the COVID-19 coronavirus was discovered among mink raised in the North Brabant province villages of Gemert-Bakel, Laarbeek, Deurne and Sint Anthonis, and Venray, in the neighboring province of Limburg.
Originally to have been executed on Friday, June 5, the cull was delayed for 24 hours by an unsuccessful appeal for an injunction filed by the organizations Fur is for Animals (Bont voor Dieren) and Animal Rights Netherlands. The two animal advocacy organizations reportedly hoped, in part, to win a ruling that the mink farms in question cannot restock their barns and continue raising mink until 2024.
Fur farms stink out Limburgers
The mink are believed to have contracted COVID-19 from fur farm workers, but Dutch authorities are also investigating whether free-roaming cats might have been carriers, and infected mink are suspected of having infected workers who were not exposed to human carriers.
All of the infected mink farms are close to the Dutch borders with Germany and Belgium.
About 40 mink farms will remain in the Netherlands.
The Limburg broadcast news channel Limburg24, however, reported that the Dutch cabinet “is investigating whether, and if so, how, a one-off stop scheme can be designed to enable mink companies to voluntarily terminate their operations” ahead of the 2024 mandatory closure, to eliminate a potential COVID-19 reservoir.
Bats, mink, pigs, & the COVID-19 spillover
China and the Netherlands currently rank third and fourth among nations in mink pelt production, behind Denmark and Russia. Whether mink might have been the as yet unidentified intermediary species in the spillover of COVID-19 from horseshoe bats to humans remains unknown.
Initially the spillover was believed to have occurred among the many species sold for human consumption at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China.
However, while the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market is known to have been where COVID-19 began rapidly spreading, some of the earliest identified cases had no connection with either the market or other human victims. Pigs have been investigated as an intermediary species, but have so far not been found susceptible to COVID-19, also formally known as SARS-CoV-2.
The Dutch mink culled to COVID-19 are likely to be gassed, just as they would have been if raised to maturity, before being killed for their pelts. Mink farms are typically equipped to kill thousands of mink quickly and efficiently, and have personnel trained to do the job.
The same cannot be said of factory-scale pig or poultry farms anywhere in the world. Pigs and poultry, like cattle, are typically trucked miles and often even hundreds of miles to slaughter.
Thus, reported Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept on May 29 2020, “Iowa’s largest pork producer, Iowa Select Farms, has been using a cruel and excruciating method to kill thousands of pigs that have become commercially worthless due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Intercept, Greenwald said, had obtained from an undercover investigation by the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere “video footage of the mass-extermination method known as ‘ventilation shutdown,’” as practiced at Iowa Select Farms barns in Grundy County, Iowa.
“Suffocated & roasted to death”
There, Greenwald wrote, pigs “are being ‘depopulated,’ using the industry’s jargon, by sealing off all airways to their barns and inserting steam into them, intensifying the heat and humidity inside and leaving them to die overnight. Most pigs — though not all — die after hours of suffering from a combination of being suffocated and roasted to death.
“Rather than caring for these animals until pre-pandemic demand returns,” Greenwald explained, “or converting them into discounted or donated food for millions of people who have suddenly become unemployed and food insecure by caring for the animals until slaughterhouse capacity can accommodate them, many companies, including Iowa Select, have evidently made decisions driven exclusively by a goal to maximize profits. In sum, they are slaughtering these now ‘worthless’ animals in vast numbers as fast as possible, using extermination methods that cause sustained suffering and agony, to avoid the costs of keeping them alive.”
591 of 2,303 Tyson workers infected
Slaughterhouses are unable to kill enough pigs and poultry to stay ahead of farm output because of shutdowns and slowdowns caused by COVID-19 outbreaks racing through personnel, who typically work at close quarters in environments easily conducive to the transmission of infectious disease.
At the Tyson Foods slaughterhouse in Storm Lake, Iowa, for instance, 591 of 2,303 workers who were tested for COVID-19 proved to have been infected, a Tyson spokesperson disclosed on June 2, 2020.
Quite likely, however, the millions of pigs and poultry being killed on farms around the U.S. because of diminished slaughtering capacity will be exceeded by the numbers killed worldwide by diseases other than COVID-19, and by routine agricultural disease control culling.
African swine fever
China acknowledged to the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization that Chinese pig farms lost more than 100,000 pigs to African swine fever in 2019, and culled more than 1.1 million pigs to keep the fever from spreading
“Unofficially, however, China’s numbers were probably closer to 200 million or more pigs culled, slaughtered early, or lost to the disease in the first year of the outbreak,” reported Guardian correspondent Michael Standaert on May 27, 2020.
As of July 2019, Standaert summarized, “the Dutch bank Rabobank estimated that at least 40% of China’s 360 million pig population could have been lost. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the United Nations agency based in Paris which monitors all notifiable animal diseases, told the Guardian it considered this ‘a reasonable estimate.’
“Data from the OIE for 2020,” Standaert continued, “shows that global African swine fever numbers by the end of April were close to, or already above, levels for all of 2019,” with “focal locations of the virus primarily in China, Vietnam, the Philippines and a wide swath of Eastern Europe.
Still no vaccine
“Deaths from sickness,” Standaert wrote, “total more than 100,000, nearly the same as 2019, and the number officially culled stands at 5.4 million compared to the 6.9 million figure from 2019. The disease has now spread to northern India for the first time, as well as to Papua New Guinea. Recent outbreaks among wild boar populations in Belgium, now under control, have also heightened monitoring in western Europe.”
Explained City University of Hong Kong professor of veterinary science Dirk Pfeiffer, “The African swine flu virus is a much ‘stronger’ virus [than COVID-19], in that it can survive in the environment or processed meat for weeks and months.”
Finished Standaert, “African swine flu kills almost 100% of the animals it infects, and despite being in circulation for nearly 100 years, there is still no vaccine.”
Will downsizing be permanent?
There is some reason to hope that, as with the Dutch mink industry, many of the pigs killed in the U.S. and China will not soon be replaced by breeding domestic herds back to their previous size––although this could in theory be done within a matter of months.
The U.S. exported a record volume of pork to China during the first quarter of 2020, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, but this was before U.S. slaughterhouses began shutting down to COVID-19.
Chinese per capita consumption of animal-sourced foods of all types, especially pork, has steadily increased for nearly 30 years, but Chinese national dietary guidelines published in 2016 recommended that per capita meat consumption––pork consumption in particular––should be reduced by about a third to meet public health and environmental goals.
Should the Beijing government take advantage of reduced meat production capacity to suppress meat consumption, and not allow U.S. agribusiness to again export cheap pork to China, in competition with Chinese producers, far fewer pigs would be raised in both nations.
“King of the Hill” loses big-time
Meanwhile, the best recent news for people who care about animals may have been the defeat of U.S. Representative Steve King, 71, in Congress since 2013, in the June 2, 2020 Iowa primary.
“Steve King had never lost a race in his 24-year political career,” wrote Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal, “until fellow Republican Randy Feenstra pulled off a stunning upset of King, a conservative firebrand who honed a national reputation for a series of incendiary comments on race and immigration during his nine terms in the U.S. House.
“Feenstra beat King, 45.6 to 36 percent,” Hayworth wrote of the primary election outcome. “A three-term state senator and former businessman from Hull, Feenstra advances to the November general election to face Democrat J.D. Scholten, a Sioux Cityan who narrowly lost to King in 2018 and was unopposed in the primary.”
Racism was pivotal issue
Iowa voters cast their ballots amid days of demonstrations held around the U.S. and the world in protest of the May 25, 2020 killing of George Floyd, 46, a black man, by four Minneapolis police officers. One police officer, Derek Chauvin, was captured on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, while two other police officers helped to hold Floyd down and another kept bystanders from approaching.
Chauvin is now charged with second degree murder; the other police officers with aiding and abetting second degree murder.
The Floyd killing appeared to put King’s record on racial issues uppermost in the minds of voters. King in January 2019 received a rare official rebuke from the House of Representatives for rhetorically asking a New York Times reporter, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
Friend of neo-Nazis
“In August 2018,” recalled Stephen Gruber-Miller of the Des Moines Register, “King reportedly met with members of the Freedom Party of Austria,” founded by former Nazi agriculture minister and SS officer Anton Reinthaller, “and sat for an interview with a Freedom Party of Austria-aligned publication.”
Questioned about those actions at a candidate forum sponsored by the Greater Des Moines Partnership, King responded that “There is no party that is stronger, pushing back against anti-Semites, than the Freedom Party,” provoking shocked disbelief from Jewish media worldwide.
Animal issues were apparently not key to King’s defeat, but as Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block summarized, “There is perhaps no one in the recent history of Congress who, during his term in office, has attempted to wreak more havoc on animals than Steve King.
“The Iowa Republican has supported killing horses for human consumption; opposed including pets in disaster planning; defended dogfighting and cockfighting, including allowing children to attend such fights; and attempted to block states from making common sense reforms for animals by repeatedly advocating for the infamous King amendment in the Farm Bills,” which would have prevented states from enforcing health and welfare standards for animal products stronger than federal standards, even in instances in which federal law is written to defer to state law.
“He usually didn’t get his way on these matters,” Block blogged, “but it would be fair to say that if there was an animal welfare issue under consideration in Congress, King was most likely on the wrong side of it.”
The Humane Society Legislative Fund had heavily backed J.D. Scholten in the 2018 Congressional race.