Denmark, the world’s largest mink producer, has announced plans to cull as many as 17 million mink over fears that a new coronavirus mutation capable of spreading from the animal to humans could put future vaccines at risk.
Describing the situation as “very, very serious”, the prime minister said the outbreaks on mink farms constitute a public health risk.
“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,” she said.
According to Denmark’s government, coronavirus cases have been detected across multiple mink farms in the country’s northern Jutland region, as well as in other parts of Europe, for months now.
Citing data from the country’s health minister, Reuters reported that about half of 783 people infected with coronavirus in northern Denmark alone had cases stemming from the region’s mink farms.
With the discovery of at least five new cases of the virus mutation at mink farms, however, there has been growing alarm that the virus could spread quickly if strong action is not taken.
Police have said that the culling of mink across hundreds of farms should begin as soon as possible.
In a statement, Police Chief Thorkild Fogde said the initiative would be a “very large undertaking”, according to the BBC.
Meanwhile, thousands of mink have also been slaughtered in the Netherlands following similar outbreaks there.
Studies are currently underway to understand why mink have been catching and appearing to spread the virus.
In an interview with The Guardian, Finnish fur auctioneer Magnus Ljung, the CEO of Saga Furs, said Denmark’s plans to see millions of mink culled came as a “shock”.
“It’s a shock. They will kill all mink in Denmark. They are talking about the risk of Covid-19 mutating in the mink, and going from mink to humans, and potentially affecting a future human vaccine,” Ljung said.
The fur auctioneer estimated the value of Denmark’s 2020 mink population to be around €350 million and €400 million (£270 million-£360 million).
Noting that mink infections had been brought into control in other parts of Europe, Ljung said Denmark’s cull was “unexpected”.
He further warned: “It could happen in other countries. But I don’t want to speculate.”