The Danish government has dropped an attempt to pass emergency legislation allowing it to cull all mink in the country.
Last Wednesday the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said all the country’s mink would be culled due to fears that a Covid-19 mutation moving from mink to humans could jeopardise future vaccines.
But opposition to the move swiftly emerged. “Massive doubts over whether this cull is properly scientifically based [have] come to light now,” said Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, the leader of Denmark’s largest opposition party, Venstre. “At the same time the government is taking away the livelihood of a large number of people without actually having the legal rights to do so.”
Frederik Waage, law professor at the University of Southern Denmark, told Danish national paper Berlingske the cull order was “illegal”.
Opposition to the cull focuses on the fact that Denmark’s’ public health agency, the Statens Serum Institut (SSI), had not found evidence of the mutated strain for more than a month, while a number of Danish and international experts questioned whether the mutation was dangerous.
In neighbouring Sweden, 10 mink farms have been identified as having Covid-19 outbreaks. There is no official tally of how many mink farms there are in Sweden, but Benny Andersson, CEO of Swedish animal rights organisation, Djurens Rätt, puts the number at 35–40.
Andersson is not expecting any cull in Sweden. “That’s mainly because the ongoing pelting season means most animals, other than breeding stock, are already being killed,” he said.
Andersson believes a cull is the safest option, however, for public health and animal welfare. “This is a tiny sector, we could easily live without it, given the risk of compromising a vaccine. We should be shutting down mink farms and culling all the animals. Sick animals are not being treated which is another mink welfare issue,” he said.
Poland and Finland are reported to be free of Covid-19 on mink farms, while in the Netherlands fur farming will effectively end this year. In Ireland, a tiny player in the mink sector, testing at the country’s three farms is reported to have begun already.
In the US, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presentation last week said 11 mink farms had Covid-19 outbreaks. The most recent list on the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website shows outbreaks on mink farms in Utah, Wisconsin and Michigan.
The American Veterinary Medical Association said at least 8,000 minks have died of infection with Sars-CoV-2 on farms in Utah. And nearly 3,400 mink are reported to have died from the coronavirus at a mink farm in Wisconsin. It added that the infection seems to be deadlier among older minks.
A statement from US veterinary NGO the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association said the apparent rapid mutation of the virus in mink, and the lack of a cull, was both a public health and a welfare risk.
It said the result is that “mink, who are already stressed from the unnatural living conditions, experience severe respiratory distress before dying”.
Joanna Swabe, a policy adviser for Humane Society International, agreed: “If mink on a farm are infected, suffering respiratory problems and are not being culled, their welfare will also be seriously compromised.”
Swabe said that not carrying out culls on farms where Covid-19 has been detected in the mink meant the continued existence of “a pool of non-essential animals that could pose a risk to public health”.
She added: “So far it’s just luck that we are talking about mink rather than food animals. Covid-19 can mutate in mink, which a virus can do anyway, and then it can potentially come back to us. What if we get a zoonotic disease that affects pigs in the next pandemic? Or chickens? Mink can easily be culled, they are non-essential. It’s going to be harder to do that with food-animals.”
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