On the 4th of November it was announced that a mutated variant of SARS-CoV-2, the scarily named ‘Cluster 5’, had been identified in Denmark, believed to originate in the country’s mink farms. As a result, the Danish government announced that it would cull 17 million minks. There have been two main responses to this. The first is outrage: how dare we, just one species on the planet, execute millions of innocent animals because of a virus that, ultimately, was created by our mistakes? The second response is acceptance: while, of course, killing 17 million animals is hardly ideal, it must be considered worth it if it saves human lives. Intuitively, I have more sympathy with the former response, as I find the latter to be a thinly veiled display of speciesism. However, there is a hypocrisy that cannot go unmentioned.
It is easy to mourn the tragedy that is the death of millions of animals, while also actively partaking in, and financially supporting, the deaths of other animals. It must be made clear that these minks, creatures who have not wronged us in any way, were born to be slaughtered for their fur. The injustice that is their execution to stop the spread of Cluster 5 is no greater an injustice than their execution so that we can wear their fur. This injustice is made all the more disgusting by the expense of mink coats – luxury fashion accessories of the privileged, those who are willing to shell out thousands of pounds to look vaguely stylish at the expense of animals.
It might seem that I oppose the culling of the minks, but I do not. It would be an overstatement to say that I support it, because the idea is horrifying – but what is the alternative? The life of a mink on a farm, even in a relatively advanced country such as Denmark (I use the word ‘relatively’ because it would be nonsensical to refer to a country that engages in these horrific practices as advanced in an objective sense) is not a life worth living.
These minks are not ‘free range’. They live in small, barren cages for their entire lives, standing on wire flooring that is both uncomfortable and dangerous. Frankly, it should hardly be a surprise that these mink farms are such a breeding ground for disease. Minks do not have happy lives. Granted, neither do many humans, but far from the torture of working in HR, which I imagine is the idea of hell for the sort of person who is privileged enough to wear mink on a regular basis, minks are driven to madness, some even choosing to mutilate themselves. Their lives invariably end in a heartless death. The BBC recently received complaints for showing a mink being thrown into a shredder to highlight the cruelty of the cull. (Incidentally, the same thing is done to unwanted male chicks as part of the egg industry – but that is a whole other hypocrisy.) Let us instead complain about the horrific injustice that these minks are subjected to, not just as a result of this cull, but day in, day out, just so their fur can be used for coats.
Clearly, it is hypocritical to speak of the culling of these minks as a tragedy, while choosing to remain silent about their slaughter for fur. However, there is another hypocrisy. It is easy to oppose this practice when so few of us have ever worn mink. But how many have worn leather? How many have worn wool? These industries are no picnic. It is easy to cry out about the deaths of 17 million minks, and yet stay silent about the more than a billion animals who are slaughtered every year for leather. In the wool industry, workers are paid by volume, ensuring that humane practices are not a priority, with skin, tails, and ears often being ripped off in the shearing process. In Australia, a major exporter of wool, male lambs are castrated either by cutting their testicles out, or cutting off blood supply with a rubber ring, allowing their testicles to fall out. Neither practice involves anaesthetic.
Whether it is for meat, clothes, or entertainment, the way that humans treat animals is appalling. The word ‘humane’ is often used, but given that humans cause so much suffering to their fellow species out of pure selfishness, I think we need to find a new word. The human attitude is encapsulated in the mink situation. We will kill these animals without a moment’s thought, to prevent the spread of a disease that affects the human population. But of course, as the BBC demonstrated as they showed a mink being thrown into a shredder, this cull will not even be close to humane. How could it be, when those carrying it out are perfectly fine with torturing and slaughtering these animals for their fur? The debate around the cull has highlighted the most egregious attitude of all: that it is perfectly reasonable and legitimate to subject millions of innocent creatures to pain and torment, purely for items of luxury.
Image: Jo-Anne McArthur via Unsplash.