The U.S. House on Feb. 4 approved a ban on mink farming, a small animal ag sector beset by animal welfare and human health concerns.
The prohibition would cover the possession, transportation and sale of mink raised in captivity for fur production.
The American mink industry has an image problem because of the backlash against wearing animal furs. In the past decade, pelt production has fallen by half, and prices have fallen by two-thirds, according to USDA.
“There’s nothing good about keeping aggressive and solitary wild mink in cages on factory farms, killing them for a product nobody needs, and then shipping their exteriors to luxury consumers in China,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy.
Ban sponsor U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said mink farms also pose a health risk because the animals are susceptible to COVID-19.
Farmed mink may have spread the coronavirus to humans in the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland and the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said infected workers probably spread the disease to the mink, but there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the disease to people.
Dogs, cats, zoo animals and white-tailed deer are among the other mammals that have been infected with COVID-19.
Fur Commission USA, the trade association for mink farmers, said in July that COVID-19 threats from captive mink are overblown.
No U.S. mink had tested positive for the disease since early January, and all farmed mink in the country were expected to receive a Zoetis vaccine within a few weeks, the association said at the time.
Wisconsin is the top mink state in the United States, producing 400,000 pelts in 2020. Pennsylvania produced 18,000 pelts and is the only East Coast state with production numbers tracked by USDA.
The U.S. has about 100 mink farms in 16 states, according to Fur Commission USA. Pelts are also taken by trappers, though the bill in Congress deals with captive mink.
The mink farming ban was an amendment to a much larger economic competitiveness bill that passed on a party-line vote. The bill now heads to the Senate.