British Columbia government accepts recommendation of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
VICTORIA, B.C.––British Columbia agriculture minister Lana Popham on November 5, 2021 made British Columbia the first jurisdiction in North America to announce a permanent ban on mink farming.
In so doing, Popham responded, six months later, to an April 6, 2021 urgent appeal from the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs is the united voice for B.C. indigenous people, representing about 4.8% of the total human population of the province, and historically aligned with defense of the fur industry as a whole.
The appeal from the chiefs was jointly signed by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, as president of the organization; chief Don Tom as vice president; and secretary/treasurer Judy Wilson.
Chiefs act “in solidarity” with animal advocates
The appeal was issued, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs opened, “in solidarity with the many organizations and members of the public who oppose the mass breeding and farming of wildlife species for fur.”
No other Canadian province or U.S. state has acted yet to end mink farming altogether, but Popham told media that British Columbia is initiating a two-year phase-out of the mink industry because of the increasingly strong association of mink farming with the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Mink farms infected with COVID-19 can menace public health in either, or both, of two ways: by acting as COVID-19 reservoirs, from which mink catching and incubating the human form of the coronavirus can re-infect people, and by becoming living vessels for reassortments of COVID-19 into new and potentially more dangerous mutated forms.
“Breeding mink is now banned across the province. Keeping live mink on farms will be prohibited by April 2023,” summarized the CBC.
“All mink farm operations must be shut down, with all of the pelts sold, by April 2025,” CBC explained.
Chiefs de-link indigenous trapping from fur farming
Continued the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs joint statement of April 6, 2021, “While UBCIC supports the ethical harvesting [trapping] of fur for cultural and ceremonial purposes, and for purposes that align with Indigenous ways and respect values of conservation and stewardship, UBCIC does not condone the industrial breeding, confinement and slaughtering of minks for international luxury markets especially as, notwithstanding the current public health risks, mink farms have long been implicated in cruel and inhumane fur farming practices that have led to unacceptable animal welfare outcomes.”
Reminded the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, “Last December, mink at two Fraser Valley [B.C.] farms tested positive for the coronavirus. As a result, 33 mink died of the virus and another 917 mink were culled at one farm, while 200 mink died of the virus and another 10,000 mink were culled at the other.
“However,” the chiefs added, “while other nations accelerate plans to phase out and ban fur farms,” including 14 nations in Europe alone, “and despite provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry expressing that the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus on mink farms is of ‘great concern,’ we were alarmed that the provincial government announced last month [March 2021] the resumption of mink breeding at B.C. mink farms, including at one farm that is still under quarantine.”
(See COVID-19 skins fur trade: Ireland bans fur farming; Finland vaccinates mink.)
“Cruel & inhumane fur farming practices”
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs’ statement can be read as in part a defense of indigenous fur trapping against competition from mink farmers, who have long dominated the fur industry as a whole.
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs’ statement can also be read as in part a defense of the wildlife population upon which indigenous trappers depend for their income.
Most significantly, though, and especially by incorporating language about “cruel and inhumane fur farming practices” previously voiced in Canada almost exclusively by animal advocates, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs broke sharply with the unified strategy for defense of all aspects of the fur industry, including the now nearly moribund Atlantic Canada seal hunt, engineered in 1985 by then-Canadian minister for external affairs Joe Clark.
Hiding behind indigenous image
Clark, previously prime minister of Canada from June 4, 1979, to March 3, 1980, commissioned from the public relations firm Thomas Grey & Company a strategic recommendation for defending fur entitled Launching the Offensive. This became the basis for a much more comprehensive and detailed document called Defence of the Fur Trade.
Both documents recommended, in essence, that the increasingly unpopular seal hunt and fur industry should in effect hide behind the image of Canadian indigenous people as environmentally aware stewards of wildlife and the natural environment.
Indigenous people at that time produced only 8% of Canadian trapped fur production, collecting just 5% of the revenue from trapped fur sales, and had negligible involvement in fur farming.
Defence of the Fur Trade was then endorsed by the 1986 Report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and has remained Canadian government policy ever since.
The last nine operating mink farms in British Columbia, all in the Fraser River valley region of south-central British Columba, as of 2018 hosted about 318,000 mink, including breeders. They pelted about 260,000 mink per year as of 2020, according to Statistics Canada.
This was about 25% of the total number of mink pelted in Canada: 1,011,600 in 2020, killed on 98 mink farms.
Canadian fur farms also have pelted just over 2,000 foxes per year in recent years, down from more than 100,000 per year at the peak of the industry in the mid-1980s.
None of the 27 fox farms active in Canada as of 2018 are known to operate in British Columbia, however, and only one chinchilla breeder. Statistics Canada does not track chinchilla production.
British Columbia provincial health officer Bonnie Henry told media that “the vast majority” of farmed mink in the province would have been killed and pelted soon anyhow.
British Columbia SPCA sought mink farming moratorium
Though the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs’ appeal for an end to mink farming was both more strongly worded and more visibly influential, it was not quite the first.
Recalled the British Columbia SPCA in an online statement, “After the first COVID-19 outbreak on a B.C. mink farm took place in December 2020, the BC SPCA called for a moratorium on mink farming in British Columbia through an immediate suspension of all mink farm licenses. A second outbreak on another mink farm took place later that month, despite industry and government assuring the public that biosecurity measures were in place.
“The latest [COVID-19] positive mink were trapped on the farm after escaping their cages,” the British Columbia SPCA continued. “The taxpayer cost of ongoing monitoring of staff and animals on fur farms is an unreported cost of the pandemic.
“Through a joint Federal and Provincial program called AgriStability, mink farmers were also paid $6.5 million since 2014,” the British Columbia SPCA said, “of which $2.6 million came from the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture,” whose AgriStability program exists “primarily to support farmers who provide food for Canadians,” the B.C. SPCA reminded.
“As furs are a luxury fashion product meant solely for export overseas,” the B.C. SPCA argued, “the BC SPCA believes the[fur] industry should be considered ineligible for AgriStability [payments], like cannabis producers.”