The Danish government wants to cull all 15 million mink in the country’s farms, to minimise the risk of them retransmitting coronavirus to humans.
Prime minister Mette Frederiksen said a report from a government agency that maps coronavirus in Denmark has shown a mutation in the virus found in 12 people in the northern part of the country who got infected by mink.
Health minister Magnus Heunicke said half the 783 human Covid-19 cases in northern Denmark “are related” to mink.
“It is very, very serious,” Ms Frederiksen said. “Thus, the mutated virus in mink can have devastating consequences worldwide.”
Denmark is one of the world’s main mink fur exporters, producing an estimated 17 million furs per year.
Kopenhagen Fur, a co-operative of 1,500 Danish breeders, accounts for 40% of the global mink production. Most of its exports go to China and Hong Kong.
According to government estimates, culling the country’s 15 million mink could cost up to five billion kroner (£605 million).
National police head Thorkild Fogde said “it should happen as soon as possible”.
Denmark’s minister for food, Mogens Jensen, said 207 farms were now infected, up from 41 last month, and the disease has spread to all of the western peninsula of Jutland.
Last month, Denmark started culling millions of mink in the north of the country. The government has promised to compensate farmers.
The country has registered 50,530 confirmed Covid-19 infections and 729 deaths.
A total of 207 out of the 1,139 fur farms in Denmark have been infected with Covid-19, which prompted the announcement. Millions of mink will be killed as a result.
Animal welfare group Humane Society International applauded the prime minister for taking “such an essential and science-based step to protect Danish citizens” and said it hoped that losing so many mink to the coronavirus causes fur farms to get out of the business.
“Although the death of millions of mink, whether culled for Covid-19 or killed for fur, is an animal welfare tragedy, fur farmers will now have a clear opportunity to pivot away from this cruel and dying industry and choose a more humane and sustainable livelihood instead,” Humane Society International-Europe spokesman Joanna Swabe said.