The Danish government has admitted there was no legal basis for the mass cull of farmed mink it ordered after a mutated version of the coronavirus was found in the animals.
It previously warned the effectiveness of any future vaccine could be affected by the mutation.
Denmark is the world’s biggest producer of mink fur, and its main export markets are China and Hong Kong.
The culling began late last month, after many mink cases were detected.
“Even if we were in a rush, it should have been completely clear to us that new legislation was required, and it was not. I apologise for that,” PM Mette Frederiksen told parliament on Tuesday.
The Danish government will now put forward legislation to back up its order for the mass cull.
The minister in charge of agriculture, Mogens Jensen, has urged all mink farmers to go ahead with the cull as a precaution, as did Tage Pedersen, the head of the Danish mink breeders’ association, reports say.
“I still encourage mink farmers to co-operate… because now we have to do everything we can for the best of public health,” Mr Jensen said.
A mutated form of coronavirus that could spread to humans was previously found on mink farms.
Six countries have reported coronavirus outbreaks at mink farms: the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Italy and the US.
Mink are known to be susceptible to Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, which can spread rapidly from animal to animal in the conditions on mink farms where thousands of animals are kept in close proximity.
The weasel-like animals have become infected by farm workers during the pandemic, and have occasionally passed the virus back to humans, potentially bringing new viral mutations.
Danish scientists are worried that genetic changes in one particular mink-related form of the virus, which has been found in a dozen people, has the potential to make future vaccines less effective.
- Denmark is the world’s biggest producer of mink fur and its main export markets are China and Hong Kong
- The Netherlands, another top exporter of mink, has fast-tracked an existing plan to phase out fur farming, bringing the deadline forward from 2024 to 2021
- France announced recently that it would ban farming mink for fur by 2025 and Poland may follow suit
- Fur farming is banned in the UK
It is normal for viruses to change over time and accumulate mutations, but experts are particularly concerned when viruses pass between humans and animals.
A number of animal species have caught the virus from humans, but mink appear particularly susceptible.