Furs: Zoonoses

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered at on 17 May 2024.

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Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment he has made of the risk of infectious zoonotic diseases (a) mutating in and (b) spreading from fur farms to other mammals; and what steps he is taking to mitigate that risk.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government shares the British public’s high regard for animal welfare. Fur farming has been banned in England and Wales since 2000 (2002 in Scotland and Northern Ireland). Fur farming is legal in some EU countries. Where outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 and avian influenza virus have occurred in fur farms in Europe in recent years, the governments in those countries took action to cull the affected farms to mitigate the risk of spread.

Nevertheless, together with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) we are keeping a close eye on the findings of zoonotic pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 and avian influenza in mink, foxes and other animals farmed for fur and the possible risk to human and animal health. We are vigilant to changes in risk and continue to use our established systems which include international disease monitoring programmes in the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and UKHSA to monitor the situation the outcomes of which are reviewed through our Veterinary Risk Group (VRG) and the Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) group. The HAIRS group have published a risk assessment on the transmission from animals to humans of influenza of avian origin and on the risk SARS-CoV-2 infection in UK captive or wild Mustelidae populations presents to the UK human population. There is no direct exposure to infected fur farms for kept or wild mammals in the UK and there is no evidence to suggest an increased risk to wildlife.

International collaboration and knowledge exchange on avian influenza and other zoonotic pathogens is facilitated through discussions between the UK Chief Veterinary Officer and representatives from our national and international reference laboratories, and their counterparts in the EU and globally through the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the QUADs alliance and allied projects. Including through the joint WOAH-FOA Scientific Network on animal influenza OFFLU.

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