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Coronavirus is striking American mink farms, but Illinois' shrinking fur industry has so far escaped the virus

By John Keilman, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Outbreaks of coronavirus have struck mink farms in Wisconsin and Michigan, but Illinois' shrinking fur industry so far appears to have remained free of the disease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

An agency spokeswoman said that as of mid-November, two farms in Wisconsin — the nation's largest mink-producing state by far — have detected the coronavirus in their animals, as have a dozen in Utah and one in Michigan.

For now, though, no Illinois producers have reported finding the virus in their animals.

Mink raised on farms to become fur coats or hats have become a recent source of coronavirus worries. A mutated form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, was found in some animals in Denmark and prompted the government to order the deaths of the nation's entire population of 17 million mink out of concern the disease could jump to humans and be resistant to vaccines.

Nearly 3 million animals were killed before the cull was suspended amid questions of its legality.

The U.S. mink industry is much smaller than Denmark's — it produced only 2.7 million pelts last year at an average price of $21.90 — and the USDA spokeswoman said no nationwide cull is being contemplated.

 

"We believe that quarantining affected mink farms in addition to implementing stringent biosecurity measures will succeed in controlling (the virus) at these locations," she said.

Illinois was once a leading producer of mink pelts, with much of the industry centered in McHenry County. But the business dwindled in recent years as global overproduction and softening demand caused prices to drop: The state last year produced only 33,000 pelts, just over 1% of the nation's total.

The state's mink industry tends to make news only when activists break in and release the animals; the last episode appears to have happened in 2013, when two men from Los Angeles freed 2,000 mink from a farm in Morris.

The farmer's name was not included in court records, and the man named in press accounts could not be reached for comment.

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