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Denmark rolls back order for mink cull amid legal dispute

The Danish government has backtracked on an order to cull the country's entire mink population after realizing it had no legal authority to mandate the killing of mink on farms unaffected by coronavirus.

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Jack Guy, Antonia Mortensen
Mick Krever, CNN
CNN — The Danish government has backtracked on an order to cull the country's entire mink population after realizing it had no legal authority to mandate the killing of mink on farms unaffected by coronavirus.

It will now merely "recommend" that farmers kill all mink, according to an email sent to breeders Tuesday morning. It needed to have passed new legislation in order to legally mandate a cull, and will now put a bill to parliament. It normally takes 30 days to pass new legislation.

Mass culling of mink, which are raised for their pelts, had already been taking place since the government ordered the cull of "all infected mink herds and herds within a radius of 7.8 kilometers (4.8 miles)" on October 1. That order does not appear to be in jeopardy, and farmers have been carrying out mass culls in recent weeks.

The order to cull even mink on farms unaffected by coronavirus was questioned over its legal validity, according to state broadcaster TV2, and the government admitted that it did not have the legal authority to make the order.

The government ordered the cull due to concerns about a virus mutation that had arisen in infected mink. Coronavirus has been found on more than 200 mink farms, and 12 humans have been found to have the mutated form of the virus that is of concern, said the government.

However, some have questioned the science behind the decision as mutations in the coronavirus are normal, and it is not yet clear if this mutation was significant.

"There are huge doubts relating to whether the planned cull was based on an adequate scientific basis," Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, the leader of the Liberals opposition, told broadcaster TV2.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said that the mutation "may have implications for immunity, reinfections and the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines," but that "there is currently a high level of uncertainty over this."

Francois Balloux, director of University College London's Genetics Institute, told CNN on Monday that he did not believe any "extra risk" that a mutation arising in mink could "create some kind of new, different super strain."

However Balloux believes culls should be carried out because otherwise mink populations would give the virus an easy reservoir to survive in as we try to battle it in human populations.

Denmark is home to the world famous Copenhagen Fur Exchange, and there were more than 15 million mink in the country prior to the culls.

The industry supports around 5,500 direct jobs, and opposition leader Ellemann-Jensen also raised concerns over the economic impact of the culls.

"At the same time, one's depriving a lot of people of their livelihoods," he told TV2.

However, current culling on farms unaffected by coronavirus "is based on a voluntary agreement with the Danish mink business, including a compensation to the farmers," said the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food in a statement sent to CNN Tuesday.

"The Danish Government is continually taking the situation very seriously, and the work to cull all remaining Danish mink is still ongoing."

Cull speed raises concerns

Meanwhile, the speed of the culling, which involves gassing large numbers of mink in large boxes, has raised concerns. On Sunday night a video of a failed killing went viral in Denmark, with footage showing a lone, live mink wriggling in a box full of other dead animals.

Flemming Kure Marker of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration told TV2 Nord that there was a fault with the box in the video, and this is the only identified instance of this happening.

Britta Riis, CEO of Animal Protection Denmark, told CNN it was a "necessary decision" to cull mink.

"At Animal Protection Denmark our concern is that the speed with which the culling is happening must not affect the animal welfare," said Riis in a statement sent to CNN Tuesday.

"The minks need to be euthanized correctly, and there are laws regarding this that must be upheld at all costs."

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