Danish Mink Cull Shelved After Government Botches Covid Response

Denmark won’t go ahead with a plan to immediately slaughter millions of mink, after opposition lawmakers slammed the government’s handling of the matter.

The proposed cull -- about 17 million animals were to be gassed and either burned or thrown into mass graves -- generated global interest last week amid fears that a new Covid mutation that started in Danish mink farms might hamper efforts to develop a vaccine.

But it’s now clear the Social Democrat administration of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, which initially issued an order to mink farmers, lacks the three-quarters majority needed to pass such emergency legislation through parliament. Food and Fisheries Minister Mogens Jensen has since issued an apology for the confusion.

Danish Mink Cull Shelved After Government Botches Covid Response

“There are huge doubts relating to whether the planned cull was based on an adequate scientific basis,” Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, the leader of the opposition Liberals, told broadcaster TV2. “At the same time, one’s depriving a lot of people of their livelihoods.”

Farmers, who had been promised financial incentives by the government to proceed swiftly, were reportedly halting their mass cullings by Monday afternoon. Farmers will continue to put down infected animals, but not those that are healthy. About 2.5 million animals have already been killed, according to TV2.

Frederiksen’s administration still plans to put forward the emergency bill on Tuesday but with an understanding that lawmakers will need longer to digest the proposal, according to an official close to the talks. The government also has the option to use the standard legislative route, which would only require more than 50% backing, but take longer.

Danish mink farmers and the center-right opposition bloc have characterized the government’s plan to kill Denmark’s entire mink population as an overreaction. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry on Friday had to walk back earlier comments suggesting the virus had spread from the northwest to the east of Denmark, which it apparently hasn’t.

The opposition has also latched on to evidence that the most recent case of the mutant variant of Covid-19 -- called cluster 5 -- was identified in Denmark as far back as September.

Danish Mink Cull Shelved After Government Botches Covid Response

But the government, which says it has coordinated its plans with the World Health Organization, warns that the latest mutation is just the tip of the iceberg. It says there’s a risk that new and more dangerous variants will develop in mink farms, unless all the animals are culled.

Kare Molbak, Denmark’s top epidemiologist, told newspaper Politiken that the arrival of Covid-19 in the country was a clear “game changer” for mink farming. Maintaining the industry now “represents far too high a national health risk,” he said.

Even if the current mutation -- cluster 5 -- dies out, “there’d be new variants in mink that would spawn equivalent or bigger problems, a cluster 6, 7 or 8,” Molbak said.

The mink industry, while angered by the proposed cull, signaled it would ultimately have little choice. Tage Pedersen, the chairman of Danish Mink Breeders, said he expects “the closure of the entire industry.”

The government has proposed support measures for mink farmers to ensure workers made redundant continue to receive at least 75% of their monthly wages, or a maximum of 30,000 kroner ($4,800).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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