Do you remember the story of Chicken Little? He was taking a walk one day when something fell from above and hit him on the head. He started running to tell the king, yelling “The sky is falling!”

Colleen Dougherty

Other critters started running along with him (because panic is contagious) trampling down flowers and fences, knocking over trash cans and breaking windows. The king was furious when he saw the way they’d destroyed the kingdom!

He told Chicken Little, “Show me where the sky fell on your head!” When they got back to the tree, Chicken Little had been walking under when the “sky” fell on his head, they found a little acorn on the ground. If he’d been paying attention and looked a little harder, Chicken Little would have seen the truth and not wrecked the town and whipped everyone into a panic.

An acorn fell in late 2019 in an outdoor market in China. It was a familiar acorn, one that scientists and medical professionals had seen before. It falls when wild animals are stuffed into cages like packing peanuts and slaughtered in front of each other to be eaten or otherwise used by some human.

A similar acorn fell in 2002 in southern China where civets were being caged, slaughtered and served up as a delicacy in restaurants. That acorn resulted in the SARS coronavirus epidemic which infected more than 8,000 and killed 800 (Reuters, 2007.) In response to that outbreak, authorities in Guangdong Province killed thousands of civets and permanently banned their sale and consumption, but they continued to be sold in markets in other parts of China.

After the COVID-19 outbreak, authorities in Bejing temporarily banned the sale and trade of wild animals for food, but the law has not yet been finalized. China’s Ministry of Agriculture then drafted a list of “acceptable” livestock that could be sold, which included several species of deer, alpacas and ostriches, but left off several that scientists believe were linked to the outbreak, such as civets, bats and the endangered pangolin.

The draft, however, allowed that “two species of fox, raccoons and mink may be kept as livestock, but not for their meat.” (CNN 2020) That brings us to a second acorn: the fur trade.

Every year, nearly 100 million animals worldwide are bred, inbred, housed in cramped, filthy conditions with poor hygiene and no veterinary care, and then killed inhumanely and skinned for their fur, sometimes before they are even completely dead.

Since the pandemic began, more than 420 outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have occurred on mink farms, including 18 outbreaks in the U.S., where 275 known farms exist.  To make matters worse, these poor, highly-stressed mink are not only perfect incubators for the virus but also for its variants. At least three variants of COVID-19 are known to have manifested on mink farms thus far.

Despite this, and unlike so many other things that were shut down worldwide due to the pandemic, the bloody business of mink farming continues. After the first mass outbreak on their continent, Denmark killed 20 million minks, buried them in shallow graves and started breeding them again immediately. One farm in Wisconsin put their workers on a priority list for vaccines so they wouldn’t skip a beat in production, (even as thousands of their fellow countrymen were losing their jobs, businesses, homes and lives.)

The European CDC issued a grave warning when it stated: “The evolution of the virus in mink could undermine the effectiveness of future vaccines in humans…and the continued transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in mink farms may eventually give rise to other variants of concern.” (NOVA, 2021)

Many disease experts in the U.S. issued the same warnings. In response, several European countries have now agreed to proposals that would ban mink and fur farming in their countries, and similar legislation is finally pending here in the U.S. (H.R.4310) Congresswoman Nancy Mace, R-S.C. called mink farming “inhumane” and “abusive,” and declared, “This practice is not only an animal welfare concern, but a public health one too.”

The World Wildlife Fund added, “This health crisis must serve as a wake- up call for the need to end unsustainable use of endangered [wild] animals as food, pets, entertainment, and body parts.”

It’s a shame we’ve had to experience pandemic and panic to recognize how badly we so often mistreat our animal relatives. But the acorns are on the ground. They’ve been there all along. It’s time to stop turning a blind eye.

 

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portrait of Colleen Dougherty animal welfare guest columnist
Colleen Dougherty, guest columnist