Half of Denmark’s mink breeders did not take Covid-19 tests despite requests

A significant number of mink breeders and persons connected to the mink fur farming industry in Denmark did not take tests for Covid-19 in 2020, despite requests by authorities to do so amid concerns about the spread of the virus in the animals.

A Danish mink fur farm after its animals were culled
A Danish mink fur farm after its animals were culled in December 2020. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Figures from infectious disease agency State Serum Institute (SSI), revealed by broadcaster TV2 in the documentary “Minkfarmens skjulte smitte” (“Hidden Infections at the Mink Farm”), show that 3,272 people in Denmark live at or own a mink farm.

1,903 of the 3,272 had not taken a single PCR test for Covid-19 up to and including September 2020, around 58 percent.

Authorities asked people with contact to mink farms to take tests for the virus in July 2020 as concerns increased about the spread of Covid-19 amongst animals at the farms, which were used to breed mink for the fur industry.

Denmark was the world’s leading exporter of mink fur until it decided in November 2020 to cull all its 15-17 million minks, after studies suggested that a variant found in some of the animals could jeopardise the effectiveness of future vaccines.

The variant was later considered to have been eradicated before a compensation package worth billions of kroner was agreed for the farmers.

The original order by the government to cull the mink was meanwhile shown to have been illegal, completing one of the biggest scandals in modern Danish politics. The results of an official inquiry into the events are expected to be published at the end of this month.

READ ALSO: One percent of mink breeders apply for money to resume business

The summer 2020 request from health authorities for mink farmers to take Covid-19 tests followed a new strategy aimed at disease control presented in July of that year by the government, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The first cases of Covid infections in mink were detected in North Jutland in June.

Despite this, a majority of mink farmers did not follow health authority advice on testing between July and September 2020.

The compensation scheme for mink farmers gave breeders who did not have confirmed cases of Covid-19 at their businesses at the time of culling greater compensation eligibility, leading to speculation the scheme may have provided an unintended incentive to avoid testing.

Tage Pedersen, the head of the trade union for mink farmers, Dansk Pelsavlerforening, told TV2 and media Finans that the sector’s response to authority guidelines had not increased the risk of spreading Covid-19.

“On the contrary. I believe our efforts set a good example and we did all we could to cull the minks as quickly as possible so that potential infections were minimised,” Pedersen said.

“We absolutely played along with the authorities,” he said.

Pedersen noted that the testing request was not a compulsory requirement. He also said that the industry had asked for testing to be legally enforced.

Tyra Grove Krause, senior medical director with SSI, called the low testing rate among mink farmers “bordering on irresponsible” in comments to TV2 News.

“It’s clear that if there were holes in our monitoring system, both in relation to infections in minks and humans, then it’s hard to slow down the spread of the virus,” she said.

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Denmark lifts Covid ban on mink fur farming

After a controversial cull of all minks in Denmark due to a coronavirus variant, the world's former top exporter will once again allow mink farming, the agriculture ministry announced on Friday.

Denmark lifts Covid ban on mink fur farming

“The temporary ban on keeping minks expires at the end of the year,” a ministry statement said, citing recommendations from health authorities.

Farmers will need to adhere to strict infection prevention measures and a control model, it added.

Denmark decided to kill all of its some 15 million minks in November 2020 after studies suggested a variant found in some of the animals could jeopardise the effectiveness of future vaccines.

The measure was rushed through and the mutation found in minks was later deemed extinct.

All breeding was subsequently banned in 2021 and 2022.

However the cull quickly turned into a political nightmare for the Social Democrat government as it later emerged there was no legal basis to impose the measure on farmers.

In early July, a commission of inquiry set up to determine responsibility for the affair concluded that Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had made “seriously misleading” statements without having “either the knowledge or the perspective” to judge.

The commission however elected only to reprimand Frederiksen without further consequence.