Mink fur farm in Vicarstown Co Laois
An order has been issued for thousands of mink to be culled at fur farms in Laois, Donegal and Kerry due to the risk of Covid-19.
While no samples have come back positive and no human infections have been revealed, the Department of Agriculture has issued a statement which follows similar decisions in Denmark and other countries which has seen millions of the animals destroyed.
"The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been working closely with the public health authorities as well as with the operators of mink farms in Ireland to address any potential risks arising as a result of Covid-19.
"Mink farmers continue to operate in full compliance with all legislative and animal welfare requirements and have co-operated fully with these efforts. Testing of the mink herd in Ireland detected no positive results to Covid-19 to date.
"The Department of Health has indicated that the continued farming of mink represents an ongoing risk of additional mink-adapted SARS-CoV-2 variants emerging and, therefore, it has recommended that farmed mink in Ireland should be culled to minimise or eliminate this risk.
"The Department of Agriculture continues to engage with the mink farmers to consider the next steps," it said.
Just last Tuesday, the Department updated the Leinster Express on the outcome of testing which followed the outbreak of a mutated form of the diseases in Denmark.
"DAFM collected samples from mink on each of the mink farms as part of an enhanced surveillance programme for SARS-CoV-2. There was no suspicion of disease on any of the holdings. The results of these samples were negative for the virus. Like all surveillance programmes, the issue will be kept under constant review," said the statement.
The Department declined to say how many samples were taken. It said human testing was a matter for the HSE but it has declined to release information about any outbreaks connected to mink farms.
The number of animals facing death was not revealed but the Department of Agriculture said in 2019 that the three farms in operation are seen as large farms producing approximately 110,000 pelts per annum.
The drastic measures were taken in other countries because of fears of the potential impact of a mutated strain on human vaccines.
There are three mink farms operating in Ireland. The Vasa Ltd Fur Farm is located in Co. Laois and has operated since the 1960s. The others operate in Donegal and Kerry. They have so far not commented.
When testing was ordered at the end of the first week of November the Department said it has had ongoing engagement with the mink farms since early summer. The Department said has written to mink farms in Ireland, on a number of occasions this year, and continue to engage with them to provide information on SARS-CoV-2 infection in mink and to advise on the implementation of biosecurity measures to prevent their mink being exposed to the virus.
It said the advice also includes strict adherence to the HSE public health guidelines on COVID 19.
The Department added that no mink have been imported into Ireland during 2020.
The agriculture department says a collaborative One Health approach to disease management which is implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is an integral part of its strategy to deal with new and emerging diseases with zoonotic potential.
The Department says it also has engaged with the European Commission and is working closely with the Public Health Authorities, including the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and the HSE monitoring national and international developments in relation to SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The Department added that it has produced awareness material in relation to COVID-19 for animal owners, including a Frequently Asked Question Document which includes advice for example in situations where an animal requires care or exercise in a household where someone has COVID-19 or is restricting their movement or self-isolating in line with HSE advice.
It said this is available to view along with specific protocols for livestock farmers regarding TB testing and the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 on the dedicated COVID hub of the Department website.
Denmark, the United States, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden have reported new coronavirus cases linked to mink farms according to the World Health Organization.
The Irish Government pledged in June 2019 to ban new fur farms and phase out existing operations. The commitment is also contained in the new programme for Government agreed between the Green Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The legislation is being drafted according to the Department of Agriculture.
The fur farms have not issued any statements to date.