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Denmark Orders Mink Population Culled After Coronavirus Mutation

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Denmark, the government had announced a plan to kill 17 million mink that had been raised for their fur. That is because - and this is alarming - some of them carry a mutation of the coronavirus that passes to humans. As Sidsel Overgaard reports from Copenhagen, what seemed like a clear plan has now devolved into confusion and political infighting.

SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: Last week, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod framed the infected mink as a matter of global importance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEPPE KOFOD: I cannot underline enough how seriously the Danish government takes this situation. We would rather go a step too far than take a step too little to combat COVID-19.

OVERGAARD: But a step too far seems to be exactly what happened. Over the weekend, it became known that the government did not actually have legal authority to order a nationwide cull, and that's throwing into question how and when farmers will be compensated for their mink. Farmers have continued to kill their animals amid uncertainty about what happens next. Farmer Rasmus Pedersen's (ph) mink are healthy, and he will be able to sell their pelts. Normally, he'd wait for their winter coats to develop, but he's been moving quickly based on what the government first promised.

RASMUS PEDERSEN: (Through interpreter) We were told we'd get $3 more per animal if we could finish the cull by November 16. In our case, that's $100,000, and we can't afford to lose that money in the middle of all this.

OVERGAARD: That haste worries animal welfare advocates like Yvonne Johansen. Her organization, Animal Protection Denmark, has filed a police report in the case of a video showing a mink struggling to escape a killing chamber that's gone viral here.

YVONNE JOHANSEN: (Through interpreter) We're keeping our focus on the animals and the way they're being killed. And that's because of that video that came out this weekend where you could see that some mink weren't being put down correctly.

OVERGAARD: Mink accounts for about $800 million in Danish exports each year. Still, Johansen hopes public awareness generated by recent images will be the nail in the coffin of the industry. Meanwhile, Rasmus Pedersen hopes the public will sympathize with farmers like him just trying to do right in the midst of a pandemic.

For NPR News, I'm Sidsel Overgaard in Denmark.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "HIGH SUNSET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.