Denmark to Cull 15 Million Mink Due to Coronavirus Concern

A mutated virus has spread from mink to 12 people so far.

silver mink in a cage
The culling is expected to be completed within a month. Georgy_Golovin / Getty Images

Denmark, the largest producer of mink fur in the world, plans to cull 15 million mink or more after a mutated form of the coronavirus spread to humans from the animals, the prime minister said on Wednesday. There are fears that the mutation could "pose a risk to the effectiveness" of future vaccines, Mette Frederiksen said in a press conference.

“We have a great responsibility towards our own population, but with the mutation that has now been found, we have an even greater responsibility for the rest of the world as well,” Frederiksen said, reports Reuters.

Twelve people have already been infected with the mutated virus, Fredericksen said.

There are between 15 million and 17 million mink on farms in Denmark, according to Danish authorities and the culling has already started. About 100,000 animals are being killed a day and they expect to have all of them culled within a month.

Mink breeding farm exterior
A mink farm in rural Denmark. danefromspain / Getty Images

According to the latest reports from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, 216 mink farms have been affected by the virus so far, with an additional 21 farms under observation.

Outbreaks started earlier this year in the mink industry in Denmark, as well as in the Netherlands and Spain. According to Dutch media news reports in August, more than a million mink were culled since the virus was first found.

In the U.S., mink living on two farms in Utah this summer also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in humans. 

The World Health Organization noted on Twitter that it was following the situation in Denmark:

Research is underway to investigate the mutated coronavirus and why mink have been able to spread the infection to humans.

The prime minister announced plans for new restrictions for seven municipalities in North Jutland in Denmark, in hopes of limiting the spread of the virus. These include Hjorring, Frederikshavn, Bronderslev, Jammerbugt, Vesthimmerland, Thisted, and Laeso municipalities.

Animal rights activists spoke out about the mink culling.

“Fur factory farms that keep thousands of wild species confined in small, barren, wire cages in close proximity to one another is not only cruel but also the ideal breeding ground for infectious diseases," Dr. Jo Swabe, Humane Society International/Europe’s senior director of public affairs, tells Treehugger.

"The announcement of a mass culling of 15 million mink, although a tragic waste of so many lives, will at least end the suffering for these animals who endure terrible deprivation on fur farms, and will also eliminate fur farms as a COVID-19 reservoir. Fur farming is a cruel and sick industry both literally and figuratively and Humane Society International is urging governments around the world to shut it down permanently."

Some 200 mink breeders and employees have said they plan to gather for a demonstration on Friday in tractors and trucks to call attention to the situation. They say they want clarity from the government on how they will be compensated for the lost mink.