The Sept. 13 raid of a Summit County mink farm has gained the attention of animal activist groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), whose website featured a claim of responsibility for the raid from an anonymous source. The local mink farmer, as of now, is still unwilling to speak publicly about the incident.
The raid, in which 20 mink were released with 15 later recovered, was supposedly cut short early Friday, Sept. 13, when a feed supply truck arrived at the farm, according to Summit County Capt. Justin Martinez.
Peter Young, an animal activist who has served two years in prison for releasing mink across Midwest farms in 1997, said the small number of mink released in this incident is a telling sign that the suspects were interrupted by someone's presence on the farm.
"It's easy to release hundreds or thousands of animals in under an hour," Young said, adding that he estimated that he and another individual once freed 1,000 mink every 15 minutes during one raid. "It's purely speculative, but there may have been a disturbance that caused them to take flight."
Young is the creator of the website Animal Liberation Frontline, which reports on the ALF and covers what it calls "under-reported animal liberation-related news stories." He said this incident was the sixth animal-release case in the last six weeks, a level of activity he says he hasn't seen since the late 1990s. Young said he is familiar with Summit County mink farms.
"When we were on the campaign, we stopped in Utah and visited farms in Summit County," Young said. "The farms I saw in Summit County are exactly as horrible as any farm I've seen anywhere else."
Michael Whelan, Executive Director of Fur Commission USA, said animal activists like those responsible for the Sept. 13 raid are picking smaller, less guarded farms to target.
"They're doing their homework they're scouting farms and seeing minimal fencing and activity at night," Whelan said. "[The farms targeted] are all near major highways for ease of access in and out."
Whelan, who has been in contact with the Summit County farmer whose operation was raided, said the farmer is worried they will be targeted again and is "very guarded right now." He criticized activists who he says are destroying people's livelihoods.
"The people there are living hand to mouth. All of their money goes toward the feeding of their animals," Whelan said. "They don't do investment into security, but now they're finding the money to put up tougher fencing and alarm systems."
Young spoke about what he and ALF see as the cruelty behind the fur industry. He described mink farms as all having the same template: small wire cages fitting one to five mink per cage, with a horrible smell and cobwebs everywhere. He said farm raids like this are "under-discussed and misrepresented" in the media and tries to speak out on behalf of those who carry out such actions.
"What is lost in the conversation is that activists that carry out these actions think that fur is worse than other kinds of agriculture," Young said. "ALF is as opposed to the meat and dairy industry as they are to the fur industry."
Whelan said the fur industry goes to great lengths to ensure the "humane conditions" of animals such as mink and says that any signs of neglect will show up in a mink's fur.
"The North American mink has the finest fur in the world, so these farmers are doing something right," Whelan said.
Whelan added that activists who manage to get photos of video inside fur farms often re-edit and manipulate the content to "take things out of context." He said all farms get inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Activists with groups such as ALF, Whelan said, recruit "idealistic young kids" to carry out these actions. He said the fur industry brings in close to $100 million to the state of Utah each year and employs hundreds more people indirectly.
Young explained why the fur industry is targeted so often by activists.
"It's the low-hanging fruit. It's very simple to target a fur farm and it's also an industry that's very defeatable," Young said.