Denmark sorry for legal bungle behind mink virus cull

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A total of 2.4 million minks had been killed by Tuesday when the Danish prime minister admitted there was no legal basis for the mass cull
A total of 2.4 million minks had been killed by Tuesday when the Danish prime minister admitted there was no legal basis for the mass cull

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen apologised Tuesday and admitted there was no legal basis for a mass mink cull after a mutated version of the coronavirus was found in the animals.

Some farmers with healthy mink stocks had protested against the ordered nationwide slaughter, saying there was no legal foundation for them to kill the carnivorous mammals.

Denmark was the world's biggest exporter of mink fur, with an estimated 15-17 million minks.

"Even if we were in a rush, it should have been completely clear to us that new legislation was required, and it was not. I apologise for that," Frederiksen told parliament.

Under current legislation, the government only has the authority to ask mink farmers in the seven municipalities affected by the mutation to cull their minks.

The minister in charge of agriculture, Mogens Jensen, has nonetheless urged all mink farmers to go ahead with the cull as a precaution.

"I still encourage mink farmers to cooperate ... because now we have to do everything we can for the best of public health," he said. 

Farmer Erik Wammen told AFP he was sceptical.

"I think the government is very smart when it says they'd like us to do it, but they're not forcing us. Because with that phrasing how can we get money" to compensate for lost income, he said.

Copenhagen last week warned that the mutation, dubbed "Cluster 5", could threaten the effectiveness of any future vaccine. It said the mutation had jumped from minks to humans and infected 12 people.

Those cases were all detected in Denmark's North Jutland region.

Strict month-long restrictions have been imposed on the seven affected municipalities.

"I think it's necessary. We're talking about a mutated virus that started in North Jutland and we're going to wipe it out in North Jutland," Birgit Hansen, the mayor of the Frederikshavn municipality, told AFP.

Since the government's November 4 announcement, a total of 2.4 million minks had been killed by Tuesday.

No new human cases of the "Cluster 5" mutation have been detected since September, and they are no longer active cases, raising hopes that the strain will be swiftly eradicated.

A new law allowing for the cull of healthy animals was to have been pushed through parliament in expedited fashion on Tuesday, but parliament decided not to go ahead amid some political opposition.

The bill will therefore go through three readings in parliament, as normal.

cbw/po/bp