Topline

After illegally ordering the cull of the country’s 17 million mink to prevent the spread of Covid-19, lawmakers now say they want to exhume their mass graves and incinerate them over concerns that they could contaminate nearby waters, while veterinary officials warn that mink escaping from farms could establish a permanent Covid-19 reservoir in the country’s wild animals that could allow the virus to re-enter humans and precipitate future pandemics.

Key Facts

The Danish government said it wanted to exhume, and likely incinerate, the millions of mink culled to prevent the spread of Covid-19 after hundreds have begun to rise from their mass graves, likely caused by a buildup of gases from decomposition.

While authorities say the escapees — which local papers have colorfully termed “zombie mink” — do not pose a risk of spreading Covid-19, locals are concerned about possible contamination of drinking water. 

Zombie mink are not the only mink to have seemingly escaped the Covid-19 cull, with an official at the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration warning that of the thousands of mink that usually manage to escape fur farms each year, 5% of these could be expected to be infected with Covid-19.    

It’s possible that these escapees could infect a number of wild animals in Denmark, which could create a Covid-19 reservoir in wildlife that could then spread back to humans, creating a permanent risk of future pandemics. 

According to professor Joanne Santini, a microbiologist at University College London, this could make Covid-19 “extremely difficult to control its further spread to animals and then back to humans,” the Guardian reports.

Crucial Quote

The Guardian reported that Professor Marion Koopmans, head of viroscience at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, said that Covid-19 could “potentially continue to circulate in large-scale farms” or be introduced into escaped and wild animals…In theory, as avian flu and swine influenza viruses do, continue to evolve in their animal hosts, constituting a permanent pandemic threat to humans and animals.”

Key Background

Denmark is one of the world’s leading producers of farmed mink, which are particularly susceptible to coronavirus, a situation worsened in farms where they are kept in large numbers in close proximity, increasing the chances of disease spreading. Outbreaks have torn through herds around the world, and, in some cases, jumped back into human populations, where dangerous mutations can emerge. In Europe, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark have all implemented culls to contain the disease in mink and to stop it spreading back to humans. Denmark’s reaction was particularly drastic, and the prime minister ordered the cull of the country’s entire 17-million-strong mink herd after a mutant strain of Covid-19 was discovered that could possibly undermine efforts to develop a vaccine. Though much of the country’s mink have been killed and scientists believe the dangerous strain to now be extinct, the agriculture minister resigned after the government admitted it did not have the legal authority to order the cull. 

Surprising Fact

Animal rights activists are actually celebrating the mink culls, believing that they signify the end of a cruel and unnecessary industry. Kopenhagen Fur, one of the largest fur auction houses,  announced it would be closing in light of the cull. PETA celebrated the news with “virtual champagne corks,” considering it a signal that “fur is well and truly dead.” Humane Society International responded similarly, and urged governments to focus on supporting fur farmers as they move to more humane endeavors. “There was never going to be a happy ending for the 60 million mink exploited for fur annually,” the group said, “but stopping breeding them altogether would be the best way to prevent animals suffering in the future for the fickle whims of fashion.” 

Tangent

Denmark’s prime minister, who has faced calls to resign over the cull, broke down in tears Thursday when visiting a mink farmer whose animals had been culled. 

What To Watch For

The fur industry may be another casualty of Covid-19, and with two leading producers of mink — the Netherlands and Denmark — already out of action, possibly permanently, its future will certainly be different. Mink is, by a large margin, the animal most farmed for its fur. A cull of mink in Poland,a leading producer, is feared after Covid-19 was discovered in farms and Lithuania recently began culling following the discovery of infected animals. This will only worsen the industry’s prospects, and could push even more production to China, which is already a major producer. It is unclear how Chinese mink herds have been affected by the pandemic and whether the virus has spread and passed back into humans. China’s ministries of health and of agriculture did not respond to Forbes’ requests for comment. 

Further Reading

Covid-19 Found In Polish Mink, Cull Feared (Forbes)

Denmark Says Mutant Covid-19 Strain From Mink Is ‘Most Likely’ Extinct (Forbes)

Denmark, Fearing New Vaccine-Threatening Coronavirus Strain, Orders Cull Of 17 Million Minks (Forbes)

More Than 200 People Catch Mink-Related Covid-19 In Denmark Since June, Prompting World Health Organization To Investigate (Forbes)

Fur industry faces uncertain future due to Covid (BBC)

Escaped infected Danish mink could spread Covid in wild (Guardian)

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