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Danish Agriculture Minister Resigns Amid Criticism For Ordering Mink Cull

Mogens Jensen, seen here in 2014, has stepped down as Denmark's agriculture minister due to mishandling a cull of the Danish mink population.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
Mogens Jensen, seen here in 2014, has stepped down as Denmark's agriculture minister due to mishandling a cull of the Danish mink population.

Denmark's agriculture minister has resigned amid backlash to the government's order to cull all of the country's mink population.

Mogens Jensen stepped down on Wednesday. He released a statement in which he said his ministry had made a mistake in ordering the destruction of all minks in Denmark. Jensen repeated his earlier apologies, offering particular regret to the country's mink farmers.

Last week it emerged that Denmark's government did not have the legislation in place for such a directive, though a deal was later reached to create a retroactive legal basis for the cull.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also apologized earlier this week and said the government had not been aware there was no legal basis for its decision. "I do not mean to disregard the law," she said, according to The Associated Press.

Still, the cull of Denmark's 17 million farmed mink — which are raised for their fur — continues, and must be completed by midnight Thursday.

The cull was ordered after a mutated version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was found to have spread among the country's mink herd — one of the world's largest — and then to humans. The AP reported at least 11 people were sickened by a mutated version of the virus.

Multiple mutations of the virus have been found in minks, but a variant known as C5 was the most concerning to scientists, due to its structure. Research from a Danish public health body, the Statens Serum Institut, had suggested that C5 might hinder the effectiveness of a vaccine against COVID-19.

The Danish health ministry said in a press release Thursday that no further cases of the C5 variant have been detected since Sept. 15, and that this variant is now thought to be extinct.

Francois Balloux, director of the University College London Genetics Institute, told The Guardian that "concerns over Cluster 5 may have been overestimated at the time," but that doesn't mean Denmark's cull was wrongly conceived.

"No, the cull was not unjustified," he said. "Mainly because of the number of mink infected with COVID-19. The mutation was not really the justification for me. It was the large mink reservoir of COVID-19. I would also mention that minks escape regularly, so you don't want that risk of infecting the wild animal population, either."

Meanwhile, minks in other countries have also tested positive for the coronavirus, including outbreaks on mink farms in the United States.

On Thursday, authorities in Ireland said all minks would be culled on three farms there due to coronavirus concerns, the BBC reported. Greece announced last week it had culled minks on farms where the animals had tested positive.

Sweden's health agency said Thursday that a number of people working in the mink industry there had tested positive for the coronavirus, and it was working to analyze any connection between infected minks and infected people.

According to the AP's Copenhagen bureau: "There are 1,139 mink farms in Denmark, employing about 6,000 people. Breeders have said the culling will put an end to the industry."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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