No net gain for animals when a turkey farm replaces a mink farm
ROCKEFELLER TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania––Mink are still being trapped alive by neighbors of the Richard H. Stahl Sons Incorporated mink farm near Sunbury, Pennsylvania, more than a week after someone cut fences in the early morning hours of September 17, 2023.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission initially estimated that approximately 7,000 mink previously doomed to a caged life and winter pelting had escaped, but later lowered the estimate to “several hundred.”
One anonymous neighbor told Kathryn Oleary of WBRE/WYOU television news in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania that she had trapped 27 mink.
Beverly Shaw, DVM, a partner in the mink farm, told Oleary that she was housing “more than 250” recaptured mink at her Sunbury Animal Hospital.
“Rabbits & backyard poultry are definitely in danger”
“You should not approach one if you see one,” warned Shaw. “Especially when cornered, they can be aggressive. I would suggest keeping all dogs on leashes in this area. They might not be able to kill a big dog, but they certainly could bite your dog. Rabbits and backyard poultry are definitely in danger. Someone’s kittens and cats could be a problem as well.”
Mentioned USA Today, “Several minks were found dead along the roadway near the fur farm, presumably hit by passing vehicles.
Second mink release in five weeks
The Pennsylvania mink release followed by five weeks the release of about 3,000 of the 4,000 mink raised at the Olsen Fur Farm in Independence, Wisconsin.
About 2,700 of the Olsen Fur Farm mink were recaptured within five days, a spokesperson for the Trempealeau County Sheriff’s Office told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Both the Pennsylvania and the Wisconsin mink release were announced by the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, associated with the “Animal Liberation Front,” an entity with no incorporated status, no officers or directors, and a name used by dozens of different people since 1976 for hundreds of covert actions undertaken in the name of animal advocacy.
Four mink releases in late 2022
Public affairs officer Susan Licate of the Cleveland office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] on May 23, 2023 issued a media release seeking suspects associated with the “Animal Liberation Front” in connection with four mink releases in late 2022.
Among them were the releases of 100 mink from the Tonn Fur Farm in Massillon, Ohio, on November 8, 2022; 800 mink from the Pipkorn Farm in Powers, Michigan the next night; as many as 10,000 mink from Lion Farms in Van Wert, Ohio, at the time the largest U.S. mink farm, on November 15, 2022; and 4,000 mink released from the Scholten Farm & Feed Supply in Wayland, Michigan, on December 19, 2023.
The FBI is also seeking “two females who vandalized a semi-truck at a mink farm in Mercer County, Ohio, between 2:00 a.m. – 4:00 a.m.” on February 1, 2023, Licate said.
From mink to turkeys
The Delphos Herald, of Delphos, Ohio, on December 20, 2022 reported that Lion Farms owner Rien Leeijen told employees the day before that he was selling the farm, and that their final day of work would be December 23, 2022.
Family members in the Netherlands had already left the mink industry after outbreaks of COVID-19 caused the Dutch government to close all fur farms.
Lion Farms manager Eddie Meyer told the Delphos Herald that Leeijen was “in talks with Cooper Farms, a turkey farming company in the area, about selling the farm to the company.”
Threat of lawsuit
“Lion Farms did sell to Coopers,” Hoaglin Township and longtime Lion Farms critic Kirsten Barnhart told ANIMALS 24-7. “All remaining mink on the farm were killed.
“There had been discussion with Hoaglin Township and Van Wert County Commissioners about how, if Lion Farms did remain, they would prevent another mass release,” Barnhart said. “I believe in the end, they decided to pack up and leave instead. I had reached out to Hoaglin Township about a possible lawsuit,” Barnhart mentioned, “which I think did help scare Lion Farms out––which would have been the goal of the suit.”
Barnhart keeps “chickens, ducks, turkeys, and guineas—many of them rescues,” she told ANIMALS 24-7 after the mink release in 2022. “None of my birds are for consumption,” Barnhart specified. “I don’t even eat meat. Any animal I take in is given love and care until they die naturally.”
But Barnhart, like many other animal advocates, did not appreciate the mink release.
“Imagine my panic”
“Imagine my panic when I found out that at least 10,000 mink were on the loose, mink who easily kill chickens and ducks,” Barnhart said.
Her panic was justified.
“There have been many reports of these mink killing chickens and family pets,” Barnhart told ANIMALS 24-7 two weeks after the 2022 mink release. “A neighbor lost 14 birds to a single mink. The other day, a lady’s flock and her family cat were killed by one. There are many of these same kind of reports. On Monday morning, I caught one killing my birds.”
Activists practicing mink releases have long been widely regarded as animal rights heroes or heroine among animal rights militants. But mink are voracious predators with very fast metabolisms, who tend to fare poorly when released into unfamiliar habitat in large numbers.
Mink can go feral, but need big habitat
As mink are an abundant North American native species, they can easily go feral and become indistinguishable from native populations.
But released mink must first find enough food fast enough to support dispersal, and then find unoccupied habitat capable of supporting them.
Wild mink normally disperse to a population density of not more than three for every two square miles, not easily achieved when dozens or even hundreds of mink swarm into the same creeks and ditches near a fur farm.
Only the suffering inflicted by fur farming makes the suffering of both mink and prey species resulting from mink releases look superficially acceptable to animal advocates, and then only to those who don’t think deeply about a situation in which few mink if any will live happily ever after.
Mink farm phase-out bill
Recognizing that mink also are easily infected by respiratory diseases, including COVID-19 and the H5N1 avian influenza, U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) on June 6, 2023 introduced a federal bill, HB 3783, seeking to phase out U.S. mink farms within one year of passage.
The Espaillat bill, entitled the Mink: Vectors for Infection Risk in the United States Act (Mink VIRUS Act), also would establish a grant program to reimburse mink farmers for the full value of their operations.
But the Espaillat bill has attracted few co-sponsors. Initially referred to the House Committees on Agriculture and Budget, it was sent to the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, & Poultry on July 10, 2023, and has not advanced since then.
“Mink fur farming should be banned for both humane & zoonotic disease risk reasons”
On August 1, 2023, meanwhile, the food authority of Finland ordered that 50,000 farmed mink and foxes be culled at three fur farms hit by H5N1.
“Mink are an especially problematic species when it comes to avian influenza infections,” the authority explained, “as mink can be an effective intermediate host for bird flu, enabling the virus to mutate more effectively into a form that will infect humans.”
In 2023, reported Louise Breusch Rasmussen for Reuters, H5N1 had already been found at 20 Finn fur farms by the end of July.
“There is valid reason to be concerned about bird flu H5N1 creating a mutant viral strain with pandemic potential in people,” zoonotic disease specialist James Keen, M.D. told Salon.com writer Matthew Rozsa. “Mink fur farming, as well as raccoon dog and fox fur farming, should be banned for both humane and zoonotic disease risk reasons.”
“Cannot separate inhumane conditions from disease risk”
Wrote Rozsa, “Keen noted how farmed mink tend to fare very poorly, fighting each other and engaging in acts of cannibalism and self-mutilation due to the intense stress of living in cramped, densely populated conditions.
“You cannot separate the inhumane conditions of factory fur-farmed mink from their susceptibility and propensity to acquire and spread infectious diseases to other mink, wild animals, or people,” explained Keen.
“Mink are not just more susceptible to COVID-19 and bird flu H5N1 on a molecular level,” Keen emphasized. “They also get sick more than other animals because of their high density, high-stress farm environments to which they are genetically, behaviorally, and physiologically maladapted.”
Continued Rozsa, “Keen broke down the exact science of why mink are so disease-prone. From an evolutionary standpoint, mink in the wild ‘are solitary carnivores,’” Keen observed, who easily pick up bacterial and viral infections from prey, often caught because the prey animals were diseased.
The carnivorous animals then may carry the infectious pathogens for a considerable time, allowing the pathogens to mutate into more lethal and more infectious forms, before the hosts become sick enough to die.