An apology by Denmark's Government is little comfort to animal lovers worldwide after 15 million mink were mercilessly slaughtered on farms across the country. Meanwhile, the country now plans to dig up the dead animals after they started to rise out of their shallow graves, posing a substantial risk to human health and raising questions as to why the corpses were buried and not cremated.
Mink is known to be susceptible to COVID-19-causing Sars-CoV-2. This virus can spread quickly from animal to animal under the intensive-confinement settings rife on mink farms. These farms see thousands of animals kept in unspeakably inhumane, filthy, and crowded conditions.
Fur farmers pack animals into unbearably small wire cages and crates to cut costs, preventing them from taking more than a few steps in any direction or doing anything that is natural to them, such as running, swimming, making nests, and finding mates. Under these circumstances, many animals literally go insane and resort to self-mutilation. Mink have been known to biting their skin, tail, and feet; frantically pace and circle endlessly, and even cannibalize their cage mates.
During the pandemic, the weasel-like animals became infected by farmworkers, with small numbers passing the virus back to humans.
In early November, Denmark announced its decision to cull all of the country's minks after Danish scientists were concerned that genetic changes have the potential to make future vaccines less effective in one specific mink-related form of the virus.
The culling began late last month. A few days after the massacre of more than two-thirds of the estimated 15 to 17 million minks in the country, the government acknowledged it did not have a sufficient legal basis to order the cull.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has personally apologized for the handling of a crisis, admitting that the government had no legal right to issue the cull.
It's important to note that the apology is not a red light to stop the killing. The Danish government will now put forward legislation to back up its order for the mass cull.
Mogens Jensen, the minister in charge of agriculture, has urged all mink farmers to go ahead with the cull. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration says the cull is already complete on 116 farms, and the work continues. It's believed the police and the armed forces have been deployed. Farmers have been told to cull all their mink – including all healthy animals too.
The harrows of this story don’t end here, either. There have been hundreds of mink carcasses emerging from their graves since the mass slaughter. Buried in shallow pits and trenches in a military training field near Holstebro, gas emitted from their decomposing bodies pushed the dead minks out of the ground, prompting Danish media to dub them "zombie mink." The government of Denmark now wishes to dig up some of the culled minks from the mass graves.
Because COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets, it's less likely to be passed on by a dead body - although scientists have said transmission is “technically possible”. Adding to concerns, some reports suggest the animals may also have been buried too close to lakes and underground water reserves, sparking fears of possible contamination of ground and drinking water supplies.
While Denmark is the world's largest producer of mink fur (with its main export markets being China and Hong Kong), mink farms exist around the world. There are some 4,350 mink farms across Europe, with Poland, Finland, Lithuania, and Greece also part of the sector.
To date, there have also been reports of Coronavirus outbreaks in mink farms across Spain, Sweden, Italy, the United States, and the Netherlands, where mink farming will (hopefully) be outlawed next year.
"When Denmark first announced its plans to cull thousands of innocent animals, we had massive doubts over whether this cull was scientifically based. Now there is concrete evidence that it wasn't," said David Barritt of Network for Animals (NFA).
"Mink farms are breeding grounds for cruelty. Parasites and diseases run rampant on fur farms, making these solitary animals' already tragic lives even more horrific. The methods used in mink fur factory farms are designed to maximize profits, always at the animals' expense. No one needs a mink coat. It's time fur farms are shut down for good."