Raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), Finland.
Photo credit: Jukka A. Lang

I would have hoped that the issues with SARS-CoV-2 in mink would have been (yet another) wake up call, but I guess not. Some changes have been made in some areas, but it’s status quo in most places. Given our pretty crappy baseline, status quo is not a good state to be in.

The latest issue, as per the latest WOAH report, is H5N1 influenza on multiple fur farms in Finland, raising Arctic foxes and raccoon dogs (yeah… because nothing bad has ever been associated with farming raccoon dogs!).

The response? Apparently, basically nothing:

Currently no control measures are applied as HPAI is not “listed disease” in fur animals.”

What could possibly go wrong with some 1500 raccoon dogs and 3500 foxes in close quarters on a farm with H5N1 and a response that seems to be mainly surveillance? Don’t get me wrong, surveillance is important. However, surveillance is not a mitigation tool. It provides clarity on what’s happening and helps guide further response. Great surveillance without mitigation is akin to filming a sinking boat in 4K but not bothering to send in any lifeboats. We get great video of the disaster but don’t save any lives.

Large groups of susceptible species create risk for virus transmission and mutation. That’s sometimes unavoidable. There’s a cost-benefit side to consider, and we can’t eliminate all animals or all human-animal interactions.

However, we can look at situations that create more risk (e.g. susceptible species, dense housing, poor management) and have limited benefit. There’s really no societal benefit of fur farming. Fur production is not essential, the benefits of fur farming are for a miniscule percentage of the population, yet the risks are borne by all of us, are real and could be substantial.

Another wake up call. Will we actually respond?