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General view of the mink farm of Henrik Nordgaard Hansen and Ann-Mona Kulsoe Larsen near Naestved, Denmark, Nov. 6, 2020.

Business, Economics and Jobs

Denmark orders culling of minks to fight coronavirus 

Some health experts question the move, while mink farmers worry about their livelihoods. 

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General view of the mink farm of Henrik Nordgaard Hansen and Ann-Mona Kulsoe Larsen near Naestved, Denmark, Nov. 6, 2020.

Credit:

Ritzau Scanpix/Mads Claus Rasmussen via Reuters 

Denmark is the biggest producer of mink fur in the world — it adds up to about 4% of all Danish agricultural exports.

But Danish fur farmers are worried about going out of business forever.

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They’re facing a government order to cull 15 million minks in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said last week that all of the country’s minks must be put down because they are considered a public health risk.

Denmark’s State Serum Institute, which deals with infectious diseases, has found mink-related versions of the coronavirus in 214 people since June, according to a report on its website updated on Nov. 5.

One strain of the mutated coronavirus, which has prompted Denmark to cull its entire herd of mink, has, however, only been found in 12 people and on five mink farms so far.

Related: Next US president faces uphill battle to rebuild CDC relationship with WHO

State Serum Institute's director, Kåre Mølbak, told reporters that the worst-case scenario is a whole new pandemic in Denmark.

If these mutations got out of hand, Mølbak said, there’s a risk of compromising people’s immunity. Mølbak said mutations in the coronavirus could also make any future COVID-19 vaccines useless, or at the very least be a major setback.

But some health experts in Europe have questioned the thinking here, saying the coronavirus mutations discovered in northern Denmark are not fully understood. However, animal rights activists see this as a unique opportunity to finally put an end to an industry they have long criticized for being inhumane.

Most mink farms are in the north of the country. After the latest outbreak of the coronavirus there, people were told to stay within the borders of their local towns. All pubs, cafes, restaurants and sporting events in the region were shut down.

Related: Is overtourism over? Travelers to Europe stay home due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Mink farmer John Papsø says he’s devastated. He’s been ordered to cull his entire stock of 30,000 animals within 10 days. And he doesn’t know what it will mean for his livelihood.

“It’s horrible,” he said.

Papsø says he and his wife have been running the farm for 30 years. He’s also an organizer for people in the industry.

“If we don’t carry out the cull,” he said, “the government will send the police or even military.”

Related: IMF reassures COVID-19 support after hundreds of groups push back against belt-tightening measures

There is not going to be any mink farming for at least the duration of 2021 and possibly longer, so it’s very likely the whole industry will die.

“I’d say it’s 99% certain the industry will not come back from this,” Pabsø said.

Thomas Benfield is a scientist clinician and one of the key physicians in the fight against COVID-19 in Denmark. At first, he says he was skeptical about the decision to cull so many minks.

After looking at the latest data, Benfield says that the risk of the virus jumping between animals and humans is not to be underestimated.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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