Denmark’s plan to cull its entire mink population to stop the spread of a mutated form of coronavirus has sparked a political clash following revelations that the government lacks the legal basis for the order.
The Social Democrat-led minority government in Copenhagen plans to introduce emergency legislation on Tuesday to kill up to 17m mink, including those that are healthy. But it lacks parliamentary backing to pass the measure after the country’s centre-right contingent said it would block the measure.
Mette Frederiksen, prime minister, announced last Wednesday that a mutated form of coronavirus had passed from mink to 12 people in Denmark and could threaten the effectiveness of a future vaccine against Covid-19.
But some international scientists have questioned that claim, and opposition politicians and mink farmers are now sounding the alarm as more than 2m mink having already been culled.
“The government is gambling with Danish democracy and they must stop,” Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, head of the largest centre-right opposition group the Liberals, told broadcaster TV2 as he said his party would not back the emergency law.
The government’s website still calls for all mink in the country to be killed. But Mogens Jensen, minister for food, agriculture and fisheries, apologised late on Monday for the confusion and said the government should have been clearer on which actions had a legal basis and which did not.
Under Danish law, any infected mink and those within an 8km security zone can be killed, but not healthy mink outside these limits.
Due to a lack of capacity at incineration plants, mass graves for the animals have been dug on land belonging to the Danish military.
Emergency legislation requires a two-thirds majority in Denmark’s parliament, which the government does not have in support of the measure. The law could still pass with more time for debate or if the government introduces normal legislation, which requires only a simple majority.
Mr Jensen insisted that there had been “no time to waste” after health authorities warned of a risk to public health. “We are in a global health crisis, and therefore the government chose to take a resolute decision,” he said.
Troels Mylenberg, political editor of TV2, called the admission that the cull has no legal basis “a scandal of dimensions, and quite simply sensational”.
The UK has closed its borders to non-British citizens from Denmark, while Norway toughened its quarantine rules for Danish arrivals following news of the virus mutation. Danish health authorities said the mutated virus could already have died out.
Tage Pedersen, head of the Danish mink breeders’ association, said he was “shaken” by the “completely insane handling” of the affair for an industry that accounts for more than €1bn in annual exports for Denmark.
Amid reports of mink farmers halting the cull, Mr Pedersen added that they should continue as “it will still eventually result in the closure of the entire industry”.