Denmark’s prime minister says its mink population will be culled—but she’s facing political resistance

November 9, 2020, 11:38 AM UTC

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 mutation that started in Danish mink farms might interfere with vaccine efforts.

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

But Frederiksen’s government, which initially implied it didn’t need to pass a new law to move ahead, has since acknowledged it needs parliament’s go-ahead. Talks are now set to start Monday afternoon, and opposition parties have already said they’re unlikely to give their support.

The government can’t pass an emergency bill on the mink cull without a three-quarters majority, meaning the opposition has the scope to block the plan.

Tip of the Iceberg

Danish mink farmers and the center-right opposition bloc have voiced anger over the planned cull, which they’ve characterized as an overreaction. Meanwhile, the health ministry on Friday had to walk back earlier comments suggesting the virus had spread to the east of Denmark, which it apparently hasn’t.

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 also says there’s a risk that new and more dangerous variants will develop in mink farms, unless all the animals are culled.

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% of Denmark’s exports and employs roughly 3,000 people, has also received backing from other opposition lawmakers.

Hit the Brakes

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.

“There needs to be a reasonable balance between costs and risks,” he said. “Right now, it would make more sense to hit the brakes.”

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, signaled it would ultimately have few choices.

“I am shocked,” said Tage Pedersen, the chairman of Danish Mink Breeders, an industry group. “Over the past month, mink breeders across the country have suffered from completely insane treatment…and now this.”

Still, Pedersen said he was “urging breeders to continue the culling.” No matter how this ends, “it will still result in the closure of the entire industry,” he said.

The government has proposed support measures for mink farmers to ensure workers made redundant continue to receive at least 75% of their monthly wages, or a maximum of 30,000 kroner ($4,800).