Danish mink farmers say industry will not recover from massive COVID culls two years ago

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Two years after a snap decision was made to cull nearly 17 million mink in Denmark, ranchers say the industry will not recover.

At the end of 2020, Danish farmer Martin Merrild said his mink was coughing and, like him, was infected with COVID.

He had few symptoms, but in those early days of the pandemic, fear of new strains and mass infections was commonplace.

On November 3, 2020, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen met with ministers and other senior government officials.

They made a decision in an hour-long meeting that would later decimate the mink industry: All mink, healthy and diseased, had to be culled to prevent the spread of COVID.

The following day, Ms Frederiksen held a press conference and announced the decision. The action was carried out within a week.

Thousands of mink killed were buried in mass graves.(Provided: Reuters)

“If they hadn’t killed them on the 10th, they would have been fine and we would have lost about four or five percent,” Mr Merrild said.

“All the strong females, they survived [COVID]. They coughed for two or three days, then they started eating again.”

Just days after the slaughter, it was revealed that there was no legal basis for the decision.

The chairman of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, Søren Søndergaard, was elected to the post on the day the slaughter was announced.

Beyond Recovery Point

Before COVID, the Danish mink fur industry accounted for 40% of the global market, exporting mainly to China.

Denmark’s fur and mink pelts had an annual export value of €500 million, or over A$768 million.

Mr Merrild says the industry will never recover from slaughter.

“In my opinion, there is absolutely no future for mink production in Denmark,” he said.

Animals were fed fresh meat daily, so feed mills were built near farms to supply it. Now they are all gone.

A middle-aged man stands next to sheds looking stoic.
Martin Merrild started his mink farm in 1982.(Provided: Martin Merrild)

The mink industry was looking for ways to protect breeding stock and genetics during the first COVID outbreak, but it was too late.

“They lost everything they built, over generations,” Mr Søndergaard said.

“A bad situation”

At the time of the showdown, Mr Merrild was the outgoing chairman of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. So he received a phone call from the prime minister’s office about the culling – a day before the announcement was made public.

Mr Merrild says he is lucky as he has a diversified income raising broiler chickens on his property in West Jutland, but many in the mink fur industry are not so lucky .

“I know of a situation with a mink farmer. He’s been working with mink since he was 10 years old and that’s the only thing he’s ever worked with,” Mr Merrild said.

“He has no agricultural production other than that and well, he was in a really bad place, and still is.”

Several rows of long, skinny sheds on a farm
Martin Merrild’s mink farm produces 12,000 animals each year.(Provided: Martin Merrild)

Report blasts cull decision

A scathing report commissioned by the Danish Parliament said Prime Minister Frederiksen had “grossly misled” at the November 4, 2020 press conference.

Ms Frederiksen denied knowing at the time that the mink slaughter was illegal, saying the decision was made on the basis of a ‘serious risk assessment’.

The commission also said Agriculture Minister Mogens Jensen, who resigned after the scandal, gave “incorrect information” at the time.

The Danish Parliament has retroactively reached an agreement to legalize the slaughter.

The report’s findings could result in past or current members of government facing official reprimands and/or indictment for their actions.

The commission recommended that 10 civil servants be subject to disciplinary sanctions.

The industry will also be compensated with around 19 billion Danish kroner, or $3.7 billion, paid by taxpayers.

A shed with empty animal cages being cleaned
Martin Merrild’s mink farm empty of animals after slaughter.(Provided: Martin Merrild )

Despite the decimation of the industry, Mr Søndergaard does not believe the decision was made with malicious intent.

“I don’t think it’s deliberate that anyone wants to get rid of the mink industry,” he said.

“I think it was more of a panic decision.

“[It’s] simply unbelievable that so many people, from the top of our society, can make a decision out of panic.

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