Tatarstan minks tested for COVID-19

The new virus will either wipe out all livestock or provide the fur industry a chance to revive

Tatarstan minks tested for COVID-19
Photo: zveroferm.ru

As Realnoe Vremya learnt, if coronavirus is reaching Russian animal farms, the whole industry that’s hardly making its ends meet today will die. At the moment, there aren’t polecats and minks infected with the new virus in Tatarstan, heads of households and experts surveyed by our newspaper said. Meanwhile, special testing systems for animals are already available, and an anti-COVID-19 vaccine for animals is being tested. Read in Realnoe Vremya’s report how the mass killing of minks in Europe can influence the fur market, if owners of Tatarstan households will vaccinate their animals, if prices for mink coats will go up and whether Russia can take advantage of a historic chance to return “the old Russian oil” and lost positions as fur power.

Minks aren’t only valuable fur

The mass eradication of minks in Denmark can have long-term consequences for the whole world’s fur market. The authorities of this country are planning to kill over 15 million animals because they contracted COVID-19 and are now allegedly posing a threat to humans. Not only 12 people who are said to be infected by the animals are causing the concern but also the fact that the infected minks carry a mutated virus that can influence the effectiveness of vaccines against coronavirus. The Netherlands is also going to destroy its livestock till New Year after Copenhagen, while Spain decided to do this in July.

Those who run a fur business in Russia and Tatarstan are shocked at what’s happening.

“We are looking and waiting for what will happen with a shudder. But we will perhaps stop existing if needed. We won’t risk people’s health,” owner of Berutsy agrofarm Nikolay Kirillov whose household has more than 20,000 minks now told Realnoe Vremya.

Nowadays only two of four fur farms breed the mink in the republic that was once famous for fur — Barsutsky agrofarm and Matyushino PLC. Koschakovsky farm got rid of this fur animal four years ago, Biryuli PLC killed all the livestock last year. Counterfeit products from Chain reduce prices for local fur making the business unprofitable, the farms explained. Plus, Green Peace’s influence, the youth’s diminished interest in fur, a fall in Russians’ quality of life. Now there is new trouble — coronavirus.

However, there haven’t been detected cases of COVID-19 in minks and polecats here. Though according to Vice Director of the Main Office of Veterinary of the Tatarstan Cabinet of Ministers Ildar Nugumanov, coronavirus was registered among animals in 17 countries, including in Russia where a cat fell ill. The hosts who contracted the crafty virus infected them. While there aren’t officially confirmed opposite cases, but Nugumanov says this doesn’t exclude such a probability.

Nowadays only two of four fur farms breed the mink in the republic that was once famous for fur — Barsutsky agrofarm and Matyushino PLC. Photo: laishevskyi.ru

Vaccine for animals

The vice director of the Main Office of Veterinary told our newspaper that the Tatar interregional veterinary laboratory had test systems to diagnose coronavirus in animals. It is a development of the Federal Centre for Protection of Animals’ Health, which is a PRC method. A swab from the animals’ mouth and nose is taken like in people.

Specialists of the Main Tatarstan Office of Veterinary and Territorial Management of Russia’s agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor took swabs from minks. “Nowadays 15 samples have been examined, they are all negative so far,” Nugumanov said. He said that there is a plan to test animals for different diseases, they are done once in a quarter or twice a year, now COVID-19 has been added to this schedule. The most interesting thing is that scientists are working on how to protect not only humans but also animals from the “Chinese trouble”.

“A vaccine against COVID-19 for animals was already developed, and the first vaccination of 40 cats and 40 dogs was on 20 October. Clinical trials are held now, there is no so far information that the vaccine has a negative impact on health. If it proves its effectiveness, those who breed minks will be interested in buying it and vaccinating the animals. Next year we will already have data about the length of immunity — six months, a year. Then scientists will recommend how often the injection had to be administered,” the functionary said.

Animals can be treated even if they are infected. Most importantly, the animals’ state should be controlled. At the same time, the same medications used for humans are utilised.

The Main Office of Veterinary stresses that a lot turns on the management of fur farms, their compliance with the sanitary and epidemiological regime.

However, wearing masks and disinfecting hands isn’t a panacea yet, thinks biologist, correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor of Moscow State University’s Department of Medicine, Candidate for Pharmaceutical Sciences Yevgeny Abizov:

“Due to the logistics and traffic conditioned by capitalistic relationships between countries, everything that has happened in Europe can affect Russia too. Agricultural produce from foreign countries, pedigree material can come. But before making any decisions, serious research is needed in virology and especially in animal virology about the possibility of transmission of the virus to humans. It will take at least six months. There might be a big problem because the topic hasn’t been studied,” the scientist told Realnoe Vremya.

Strictly in masks and gloves

The heads of households we surveyed confirmed that they strictly followed instructions of supervisory bodies: they take their workers’ temperature every morning, wear masks and gloves, disinfect their hands. Moreover, people don’t closely contact minks in fur farms — they put food in the cages without touching the animals. Nikolay Kirillov added that Bersutsky even switched to one shift to limit the duration of people’s presence in the household, the admission for third persons was prohibited.

Both Bersutsky and Matyushino tested their minks for COVID-19 in August. “But we can’t guarantee daily they won’t get infected or somebody won’t bring the infection,” Nikolay Kirillov noted.

The directors’ opinion about vaccination didn’t coincide. Head of Matyushino PLC Firkat Gaynetdinov said that if veterinary services oblige them to vaccine the animals, they will do it, while Bersutsky claimed that it is a matter of the price of the vaccine. Director General of Biryulin fur farm Irshat Kamaliyev shrugged off the problem: “We will resolve the issue on the spot. The situation in Tatarstan is normal — there are no changes, there aren’t COVID-19, infected and recovered animals. We are examining them.” However, this year this farm isn’t breeding minks.

But they won’t certainly treat infected animals from the virus. It will be too expensive. “If the treatment for the mink is expensive, why breed it? We aren’t in our heyday,” Kirillov stressed.

Russia has a chance of reviving the sector

Famous fur producer, founder of Russian Fur company Viktor Konstantinopolsky forecasts that growth of prices for fur products, especially foreign ones, will be the first consequence of the destruction of minks in Europe. They won’t be widely available, considering the current dollar and euro rate.

“Since I have been running the fur business for quite a long time, I am aware of all events. Moreover, I am a participant in all international auctions where I am a broker and purchase a good. I am well familiar with the situation of the Copenhagen auction. An unprecedented decision has been made. I think it is, to put it mildly, not a very smart and correct decision to up and destroy the whole sector. While the destruction is setting a fire, and the breeding stock will be destroyed. They have more than 1,300 fur farms. It is a significant budget of the same Denmark. Coronavirus was detected in minks in other countries too — the USA, Canada, Italy. But Italy doesn’t have a lot of fur farms. The North American market is big enough. But Copenhagen is the biggest. It accounts for 30% of the whole mink production. Today the business is already tough because of a myriad of factors: the pandemic, the dollar rate. The sector will unlikely revive there, a very big operator is leaving the stage,” the expert outlined the situation.

However, new opportunities are opening for other representatives of the fur business. And here it is important who will make the first step.

“I think that today Russia has a very good chance of reviving our sector that was destroyed, it became husbandry for some reason. And today our fur farms are on the edge. If our government pays serious attention to this, with its support we can occupy a good niche in this business because China is the main consumer, and they use a lot of precisely Danish mink. I think we can occupy dominating positions in just 2-3 years and export fur like we did previously in the USSR when we had around 13,5 million heads of mink. Today they total 1,8 million, and they are dying. I consider we should be thinking precisely about this today. But if we miss the chance, China will take advantage of it,” Konstantinopolsky shared his vision.

He noted that now Russia breeds 2-3% of the whole world volume of mink, which was around 90 million skins. Here we should add the animals from China, which has from 30 to 50 million heads according to different data. But today China has cut the livestock to 5 million. The forecast for 2021 is 30 million mink skins, but as Denmark is getting rid of its “soft gold”, only 15 million will be left. The expert thinks that Russia, which exports only 300,000 skins at the moment and the main share is consumed in the domestic market, can fill the deficit of fur.

Dumping China

However, not everybody has a positive outlook. The grey market is the main problem when cheap Chinese fur is imported to Russia through Kazakhstan. Its quality isn’t as good as the Russian once, however, it is twice cheaper. And the purchaser votes with his wallet.

“You sew a fur coat, it isn’t cheaper than 100,000 rubles, while why you should buy it if you go to Fur Quarter and it has the same price tag but the coats are sold for 50,000, 40,000. It seems to be good for the consumer but bad for the sector. We buy a coat once in 5-6 years, and one can afford a quality purchase for real money, but we survived somehow,” thinks Director General of Matyushino PLC Firkat Gaynetdinov.

He thinks that responding to the world situation China can also increase the amount of livestock, it is good that minks proliferate well. And then it can export the fur to us for dumping prices.

“This is why even though prices for fur will go up, it won’t be for long. And even if the amount of livestock increases, we won’t go up like before. Russia used to have 400 fur farms, only 30 have left now,” Gaynetdinov complains.

By Eleonora Rylova
Tatarstan