AMSTERDAM (AFP) - A Dutch judge late on Thursday (June 4) postponed the planned cull of around 10,000 mink on farms in the Netherlands where coronavirus had been reported, after animal rights groups objected.
Health officials ordered the slaughter of the animals after at least two workers were last month reported as being infected with Covid-19, most likely by the mink.
The proposed cull at mink farms in southern Netherlands, the epicentre of the country's outbreak, due to have started on Friday, was aimed at preventing further contamination, two senior Dutch ministers said.
But late on Thursday, a judge before a specialised economics court postponed the cull until after a hearing on Monday in which two animal rights groups will lodge objections, the court said in a brief statement.
"Experts have always said that corona in mink posed no health risk to the general population," said Erwin Vermeulen, a spokesman for Animal Rights, one of the groups that lodged the complaint.
"The decision to cull now seems mainly based on populist motives," he told the NOS public broadcaster.
Health officials, however, warned the "virus can continue to circulate on mink farms for a long time and therefore posed a risk to public and animal health," the ministers said in a letter to parliament on Wednesday.
Around 10,000 mink are due to be culled, agriculture department spokeswoman Elise van den Bosch said.
The estimate did not take into account mink pups born in spring, with female animals giving birth to about four to six offspring, she told AFP on Thursday.
The ministers described it as a "difficult measure" adding that farmers would be financially compensated.
An animal welfare committee would ensure that the animals would be culled in a "responsible way", the ministers said.
Dutch authorities reported two possible cases in May where humans were believed to be infected with coronavirus by mink.
The infections in the south of the Netherlands could be the "first known cases of animal-to-human transmission", the World Health Organisation said late last month.
The Dutch government has since banned the transportation of mink and made Covid-19 testing mandatory on all farms across the country.
There have been more than 5,990 coronavirus deaths and almost 46,000 infections in the Netherlands, according to the latest official figures.
Keeping mink for their fur has been a controversial issue in the Netherlands, with its highest court in 2016 ordering that all mink breeding must cease by 2024.