Denmark will exhume millions of mink from mass graves after some carcasses resurfaced following a cull last month, raising concerns over health risks.
Officials ordered Denmark’s entire herd of approximately 15 million mink – which are farmed for their furs and prized in the high-end fashion industry – be destroyed in early November after a mutated form of the novel coronavirus was found to have been transmitted between the animals and humans.
Meanwhile, Danish lawmakers on Monday passed a law to ban mink breeding, retroactively creating the legal basis for its order to cull all mink in the Nordic country in November over fears of worsening the coronavirus epidemic.
The law will ban mink breeding until 2022.
In the wake of the cull, four million of the animals were hastily buried in mass graves at military sites near Holstebro and Karup in Denmark’s west.
Authorities claimed there was no risk of the graves spreading the novel coronavirus, but local residents raised concerns the carcasses could contaminate drinking water supplies and a bathing lake less than 200 metres (650 feet) from the mass graves.
Those fears were heightened after hundreds of mink carcasses recently resurfaced from the area’s sandy soil, as gasses from the decomposition process pushed them out of the ground.
Amid the crisis, Denmark’s government on Sunday said it had gained support in Parliament to dig up the carcasses buried in the military areas, according to a statement by the food and agriculture ministry.
The exhumation will begin in May next year when the risk of infection has passed. The remains will be trucked to nearby waste incinerators and cremated.
“This way, we avoid the mink being treated as dangerous biological waste, a solution that’s never been used before,” the ministry’s statement said.
The Danish government has previously admitted it had no legal basis for the cull, which also saw healthy animals killed off. The country’s agriculture minister was forced to resign over the fiasco.
Denmark is the world’s top mink fur exporter, with its pelts in high demand due to high breeding standards.
The country’s farms account for about 40 percent of total global production, with most exports going to China and Hong Kong.
About 6,000 people are employed in the industry nationwide. However, the industry is set to be put on hold by a bill that would ban mink husbandry until 2022, which is expected to become law on Monday.