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 ejects mink breeders from compensation committees 

Mink fur breeders in Denmark will no longer influence the amount paid out in compensation to fellow breeders whose farms were closed during the Covid pandemic, the government has said.

Denmark ejects mink breeders from compensation committees 

Mink fur breeders will no longer participate on committees which decide how much compensation to award other mink breeders, agriculture minister Jacob Jensen confirmed to broadcaster DR on Thursday.

The government set aside billions of kroner for compensation to mink breeders after ordering all fur farm minks be destroyed in late 2020, over concerns related to Covid-19 mutations in the animals. The order to destroy the minks was later found to be illegal in a major scandal for the government.

Recent reports by media Zetland have described how the breeders have gained influence over the compensation through their presence on the committees.

“We don’t think there should be direct representation on the commissions,” Jensen told DR.

READ ALSO: Danish mink fur breeders received ‘too much compensation’

The change in practice will require a formal agreement between the government and the opposition parties who agreed to the mink breeder compensation programme, but this is not expected to present an obstacle.

A review of 27 compensation cases by Zetland found that mink fur breeders had the highest representation of any professional group involved in the commissions, whose remit is to decide the amount to award individual breeders in compensation.

Not including independent chairpersons, 7 out of 10 commission members were put up by either the mink fur industry or Landbrug & Fødevarer, the interest organisation for the agriculture sector. Some commission members are waiting for their own claims to be resolved, Zetland reported.

Jensen said he wanted the commissions to have a “better composition”.

That could include judges, economists or others who “have knowledge of the value of property,” he said.

In comments to newswire Ritzau, the chairperson of mink fur interest organisation Kopenhagen Fur, Tage Pedersen, said his “first thought is it’s a shame, because I think we had a good system”.

Changing the existing system means further delays for fur breeders awaiting compensation, while it is the farmers themselves who are in the best position to evaluate the value of a farm, he noted.

“But I also have say that me and my family and all other mink breeders and their families have been harassed so much over the last eight days that we can’t take it anymore. So actually I am also relieved,” he said.