MLA challenges fur farming in Victoria

A wild mink swimming.
A wild mink swimming. Photo by Jillian Cooper / Getty Images

The official opposition’s agriculture critic called on Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Lana Popham to speak to mink farming and the COVID-19 risks associated with it in British Columbia.

The Fur-Bearers and our supporters thank the member for raising this issue on numerous occasions in the legislature.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Ian Paton, Liberal MLA for Delta South and Agriculture Critic questions Hon. Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture regarding fur farming during proceedings of the Committee of Supply.

Click for Hansard transcript (4:35 pm)

I. Paton: Moving on to another topic, there have been several COVID-19 outbreaks linked to the ten fur farms located across this province. The Farm Practices Protection Act stipulates that the farm operation must meet the Public Health Act, Integrated Pest Management Act, Environmental Management Act and the regulations under those acts. There has also been a large level of concern expressed to me over the government subsidy of fur farms in this province.

Can the minister confirm how much funding has been allocated towards the fur farming industry in the ’20-21 fiscal year and whether her government will continue to support this industry for years to come?

Hon. L. Popham: I’m going to give a brief answer. We can definitely get into more detail, if the member wants.

Just to be clear, we don’t subsidize fur farming in British Columbia. Licensed fur farms have access to AgriStability programs, just like any other licensed and regulated agricultural operation. But we don’t directly subsidize fur farms.

There have been some concerns that have come with COVID, as COVID-19 can transfer from mink to human and human to mink. We have had some positive test results that have come back from some fur farms in the Fraser Valley. We’ve been working with the Ministry of Health on that. It’s definitely something that, of course, we’re interested in.

There has been a decline in the price for fur over the past years. So the fur farming industry has used AgriStability insurance programs for that.

We could go into more detail, but I have to say that around the COVID-19 concerns, the Ministry of Health is working with us side by side.

I. Paton: Thank you, Minister.

What we’re seeing in the media…. We’re seeing a figure of $6.5 million a year, I believe. It is being suggested that $6.5 million per year is being provided through the Ministry of Agriculture to the fur industry in British Columbia. Is that true?

Hon. L. Popham: That figure is an AgriStability number.

I. Paton: Would the NDP party, then…? Could they say…? Are you in favour of moving forward with fur farming in British Columbia, or is this something you would possibly see that we would remove from British Columbia?

[4:40 p.m.]

Hon. L. Popham: I think the member’s question is related to mink and COVID, but I’m not sure. He can clarify. As far as making decisions around mink operations and COVID and shutting farms down or not, we take our guidance from the public health officer on that.

I. Paton: So where do you see, from the Ministry of Agriculture’s point of view, the future of mink farming in British Columbia?

Hon. L. Popham: Thanks for the question. Currently we’re focused on mink in relation to COVID. We will continue to take direction from the public health officer, but there are no other discussions at this time.

I. Paton: The question, once again, was that…. We look at the future of all sorts of different agricultural commodities in the province. Where’s the future of beef cattle? Where’s the future of dairy cattle? Where’s the future of salmon farming in B.C.?

Once again, what does the Ministry of Agriculture see as a future for the mink industry in British Columbia?

Hon. L. Popham: I hope that I can demonstrate that the concern right now is specifically around mink and COVID and the ease of transmission. It’s a concern, and we’re taking direction from the public health officer. That’s as far as we’re looking right now. We’re making sure that that is being mitigated, but I really can’t say any more than that.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Ian Paton, Liberal MLA for Delta South and Agriculture Critic questions Hon. Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture regarding fur farming during proceedings of the Committee of Supply.

Click for Hansard transcript (6:10 pm)

I. Paton: On a different topic, unfortunately for the minister’s sake, there were some unfortunate posters put up around Victoria this past weekend.

[6:10 p.m.]

The minister mentioned that mink farmers will have the support of AgriStability. I understand our insurance risk management projects with AgriStability and production insurance. AgriStability is obviously offered to mink farms, as with all farms. It finds that there’s a depression in their average income over the years. And from what I’ve seen with AgriStability and production insurance.

AgriStability is, obviously, offered to mink farms as with all farms that find that there’s a depression in their average income over the years. From what I’ve seen here, the mink industry was granted with AgriStability payouts of $6.5 million over the past six years.

My question is: will the mink-farming industry continue to have the comprehensive support of AgriStability programs once the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, and where does the minister see the industry of mink farming going post-pandemic?

Hon. L. Popham: I will try my best to be quick.

The member will know…. The federal government decides what farm commodities are, and in doing so, they decide who is eligible to receive AgriStability payments. Mink farming is one of those parts of the industry that has been identified by the federal government as a farm commodity.

The member is correct. Over the last seven years, the AgriStability program has paid out about $6.5 million to the mink industry, and 2.6 million of those dollars were from British Columbia. I can give an example of how that looks. Last year $52,000 was paid out through AgriStability to mink farmers.

What the mink-farming industry looks like after the pandemic…. I can’t tell the member what it would look like. Currently there are concerns around COVID-19 and mink farming. That is being looked at by our public health officer.

I can’t foresee the future of mink farming. We’re still in the pandemic, and that’s our concern right now.

I. Paton: Thank you for the answer but not actually getting the answer I was hoping for.

What I’m asking is: does the minister see the future of mink farming being the same as raising baby chicks up to become poultry which we eat, raising young steer calves up to be two years of age and going to Cargill to become steaks on our grocery store shelves and young baby pigs being raised up? Does she see the future of mink farming on the same level as these other livestock producing businesses?

The Chair: Minister, if you could maybe formulate an answer to that question for tomorrow morning.

Hon. L. Popham: I’m just going to…. I have one sentence.

The Chair: Yes. Perfect.

Hon. L. Popham: My previous answer holds.

 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/42nd-parliament/2nd-session/20210615am-CommitteeA-Blues

Kirkpatrick: Thank you to my colleague from Kelowna-Mission for the time today. Last week my colleague asked the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries about the health concerns posed by fur farming of transmission of COVID-19. As you know, there’ve been several COVID-19 outbreaks linked to ten of the fur farms across British Columbia. In January 2020-21, jointly, the WHO, UN Food and Agriculture and World Organisation for Animal Health documented the risks and estimated the risk of spillover from fur farms to humans in Canada as very likely and the transmission of COVID-19 from fur farm animals to susceptible wild populations as likely. The minister, when asked, confirmed that there have been some concerns that have come with COVID, as COVID-19 can transfer from mink to human and human to mink. “We have had some positive tests that have come back from fur farms…. We’ve been working with the Ministry of Health on that.” “As far as making decisions,” she said, “around mink operations and COVID and shutting farms down or not, we take our guidance from the public health officer on that.”

My question to the minister. I’ll put two together for the sake of time here. Was the advice of the public health officer sought prior to the breeding season for mink in British Columbia? Secondly, part of that is: why didn’t the Ministry of Health recommend the closure of these farms prior to the breeding season?

Hon. A. Dix: This is an issue in which, obviously, the provincial health officer and the BCCDC have been very involved, and Dr. Henry and our really remarkable team in Fraser Health as well. The group of people that have been involved in this include the Public Health Agency of Canada, of course; the Canadian Farm Inspection Agency; the Ministry of Agriculture, which played an important role in addition to that of the BCCDC; and Fraser Health. Overwhelmingly, if the member is talking about mink…. All of those people have been involved in terms of the development of surveillance and testing. So at every stage, these decisions are made by public health based on the evidence and based on their involvement in consultation with all these groups. What I’d suggest to the member — and she might appreciate this — is that I would be happy to arrange a briefing on the details of that testing, should she wish, with public health, either with the team at Fraser Health, which does a lot of this work on the ground, or with Dr. Henry’s office, and take her through the step-by-step details, because this question and these farms, in particular, fur-bearing animals but principally the mink farms, have been a significant issue for public health for the last number of months of the pandemic. Very significant actions have been taken, always under the guidance of public health. I think the response has been both useful and effective for them. What I would offer to the member, though, because I think there are a lot of scientific details…. Should she be interested in that, I’d be happy to arrange that for the member.

Do you want to…?

Interjection.

Hon. A. Dix: I will sit down and allow the follow-up before I move the motion.

The Chair: Member for West Vancouver–Capilano, do you have a follow-up?

  1. Kirkpatrick: Yes, thank you very much. What I understand is that the benefit of continuing mink farm operations in the province outweighs what has been described as a significant risk of COVID transmission. That was a statement that can be corrected, but one final question is: do all fur farms in British Columbia require a health management plan for licensing? That is my final question.

Hon. A. Dix: There are two roles. Public health — in other words, those who work on the mink farms — is the responsibility of the provincial health officer, so that process. There’s also a very significant role for — I’m sure this is not this person’s title — the provincial vetd. But I think you get the idea. The member will know, as a member interested in this thing, who I’m referring to. The decision on issues around breeding are obviously made by the provincial vet, in consultation, in this case, because of the pandemic, with public health and the BCCDC. As respects those working on the farms — the humans — the final decision around that is made by the provincial health officer. With respect to the animals, there is a responsibility for the provincial vet, and they have been working in tandem on these issues.  That’s the appropriate division. I think the member will understand that. But I think it would be useful…. I have to say that I’ve learned more about mink farming than I would have anticipated — I think that’s fair — over the last little while. But I think the full briefing of mink farming should come from the people who taught me all that I’ve recently learned about mink farming. If the member is agreeable to that, I’d be happy to arrange that. Perhaps she could just indicate that to my office, if that sounds good With that, if it’s okay, I’ll move that the committee rise and report progress and ask leave to sit again.

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