Mink cull hits political wall in Denmark as govt, WHO hold Covid-19 talks

Danish mink farmers and the centre-right opposition bloc have characterised the planned cull as an overreaction. PHOTO: AFP

COPENHAGEN (BLOOMBERG) - Denmark's government may not have the political backing it needs to move ahead with a mass cull of the country's mink population.

The planned slaughter - 17 million animals were to be gassed and either incinerated or buried in mass graves - generated global interest last week amid concerns that a Covid-19 mutation that started in Danish mink farms might hamper efforts to develop a vaccine.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said last week her government was in talks with the World Health Organisation to figure out how to contain the outbreak, and suggested the WHO was on board with the proposed cull.

The WHO says preliminary findings show that the Danish mutation has "moderately decreased sensitivity to neutralising antibodies."

Ms Frederiksen's government, which initially implied it did not need a new law to proceed, has since acknowledged it is relying on Parliament's go-ahead. Talks were set to start Monday (Nov 9) afternoon, but opposition parties have already said they're unlikely to give their support.

The government cannot pass an emergency Bill on the mink cull without a three-quarters majority in Parliament, meaning the opposition has the scope to block the plan.

Ms Frederiksen's administration had hoped to start exterminating Denmark's mink population this month, and was even offering financial incentives to farmers who wiped out their herds by Nov 16, according to documents shared on social media by opposition lawmakers.

Danish mink farmers and the centre-right opposition bloc have characterised the planned cull as an overreaction. Meanwhile, the health ministry on Friday had to walk back earlier comments suggesting that the virus had spread to the east of Denmark, which it apparently has not.

The opposition has latched on to evidence that the most recent case of the mutant variant of Covid-19 - called cluster 5 - was identified as far back as September. But the government says the latest mutation is just the tip of the iceberg. It warns that there's a risk new and more dangerous variants will develop in mink farms unless all the animals are culled.

Mr Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, the head of the biggest opposition party, the Liberals, told broadcaster TV2 he won't back the government's proposal for a mass cull here and now.

"There's no way this is going to be passed in an afternoon," he said.

The mink industry, which represents about 0.7 per cent of Denmark's exports and employs roughly 3,000 people, has also received backing from other opposition lawmakers.

Mr Rasmus Jarlov, a member of the Conservative People's Party and a former business minister, said the plan should be shelved until more details are known.

Mr Henrik Dahl, a spokesman for Liberal Alliance, said experts advising his party judge the government's response to be a "huge overreaction," according to Berlingske.

The mink industry, while angered by the proposed cull, signalled it would ultimately have little choice.

Mr 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 per cent of their monthly wages, or a maximum of 30,000 kroner (S$6,436).

Meanwhile, Denmark's main animal rights group, Dyrenes Beskyttelse, said it plans to involve the police after viewing a video showing a botched cull by state workers.

The law states "that anyone who wants to put down an animal has to ensure that it's done as painlessly as possible", Ms Yvonne Johansen, the head of Dyrenes Beskyttelse, said in a statement. "That's not what I'm seeing here."

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