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High risk of animal-to-human diseases developing in some China fur farms, welfare group says


An investigation of five fur farms in China housing foxes, raccoon dogs and mink found a high risk of diseases developing that could jump from animals to humans, said animal protection group Humane Society International who conducted the study at the end of 2023.

The farms in China’s northern Hebei and Liaoning provinces each held between 2,000 and 4,000 animals in intensive conditions, including in close proximity to poultry, HSI said.

Alastair MacMillan, a visiting professor at Surrey University’s Veterinary School, said the high stocking density of the animals facilitates the rapid spread of viruses on droplets from one to another, and potentially to humans.

“The rapid circulation and mixing of different strains of virus from animal to animal facilitates their adaption to a mammalian host, the development of mutant strains of concern and a greater likelihood of a threat of human infection.”

China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs did not respond to requests for comment regarding the conditions on the fur farms and the risk of disease spread.

MacMillan said that from a disease transmission and public health perspective the footage was extremely worrying as it is well known that animals farmed for their fur are susceptible to respiratory viruses that can infect humans.

Data from the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic briefly uploaded to a database by Chinese scientists last year suggested raccoon dogs may also have been involved in coronavirus reaching humans.

Photos and footage from HSI showed animals densely packed in small empty cages with wire mesh floors. Reuters was not able to independently verify the footage.

Many animals could be seen pacing up and down repetitively, an action linked to psychological distress, according to veterinary experts.

“Mentally disturbed animals, piles of animal filth, barren cages and worrying zoonotic disease is in stark contrast to the glamorous image the fur trade tries to portray,” said Peter Li, HSI’s China policy expert.

Even as China’s fur production has fallen in line with global trends, down 50% from 2022 to 2023 and a near 90% decline in the past decade, there appears to be still robust demand for fur.

Social media platforms such as e-commerce site Xiaohongshu and Weibo showed users discussing wearing fur as desirable and practical for keeping warm. 


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