By Sean Ellis

sellis@journalnet.com

    A national animal rights group is blasting Idaho for its treatment of mink, calling the Gem State the third-worst in the nation for its treatment of animals farmed for their fur.

    According to a news release by the national wildlife advocacy organization Born Free USA, Idaho earned its place near the top of the list for its high number of unregulated mink farms.

    While the Idaho State Department of Agriculture has the authority to inspect fur farms, it chooses not to, the release said. The group also accuses Idaho of having “one of the broadest anti-cruelty statute exemptions in the country.”

    Idaho’s 24 mink farms produced 228,000 pelts in 2008, which ranked the Gem State third in the nation. Wisconsin, the national leader, produced 910,000 pelts in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Utah ranked second with almost 550,000 pelts last year.

    Several of Idaho’s mink farms are located in the Franklin County area, but farm owners would not speak to the Journal on the record about the claims. They’re afraid of being targeted by animal rights groups, which they claim routinely raid their farms and let their animals loose.

    “I don’t know about Born Free, but certainly there are groups that do that,” said Teresa Platt, executive director for Fur Commission USA, headquartered in Coronado, Calif. “They do an awful lot of damage.”

    Born Free’s 44-page report reviews statistics and legislative oversight of animals raised for their fur. According to the report, while the ISDA’s Division of Animal Industries has authority to inspect mink farms at any time, because the farms are not required to be licensed in Idaho, having the authority to inspect them is meaningless.

    Mink farming is not federally regulated and since mink are listed as domestic livestock, mink farms fall under the jurisdiction and regulation of individual states.

    Under Idaho statutes, the ISDA does have the authority to inspect, but mink farms are not required to be licensed in this state. However, the state does have a voluntary inspection program and more than half the state’s mink farms are enrolled, according to Dr. Bill Barton, the state vet.

    Inspections encompass the entire facility, he said, and include checking cages, ensuring proper sanitation techniques are used, reviewing the farm’s feeding and watering protocol, and ensuring humane euthanasia techniques are used.

    The ISDA also has the authority under the state’s animal neglect and cruelty statutes to inspect any facility if the department receives a complaint about it. Barton said the department has not received any complaints about mink farms during his three years with the ISDA.

    Though mink farms aren’t required to be licensed in Idaho, “It’s not to say ... mink farms are willy-nilly doing whatever they want,” Barton said.

    Born Free’s report also claims animal cruelty is a problem at Idaho’s mink farms, and the group says it is concerned with the potential of caged animals spreading diseases to native wildlife, as well as animal waste from the farms causing environmental pollution.

    Platt called the report “animal rights propaganda.”

    “They are obviously people who don’t support the use of animals for anything,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do to please these people because, philosophically, they’re against using these animals for human benefit. No matter how well we care for these animals, it’s not going to make them happy.”

    Platt said North American mink pelts are recognized as among the best in the world. “That’s not easy to do if you’re not taking care of your animals.”

    While the number of mink farms in the U.S. has plummeted from more than 1,000 in 1975 to 274 in 2008, the number of pelts produced in this country has mostly held steady at about 2.8 million.

    The 2008 U.S. pelt crop earned $115.6 million, down sharply from $185.8 million a year earlier. The average price per pelt in 2008 fell to $41.50 from the all-time high of $65.70 set the previous year.