Danes start culling 2.5 million minks after virus hits farms

Denmark begins culling 2½ MILLION minks after coronavirus was found on 63 fur farms

  • Officials began culling mink in Gjoel, west of Aalborg, north Denmark, Thursday
  • Mink farmer Thorbjoern Jepsen refused to let authorities enter his farm in Gjoel
  • A handful of protesters were removed outside two mink farms over the weekend

Denmark has begun culling at least 2.5 million minks after coronavirus was reported in at least 63 farms in the north of the country.

Mink, bred for their silky, luxurious pelts, are particularly susceptible to the deadly virus and research suggests they can transfer Covid-19 to humans.

The culling started on Thursday in the village of Gjoel, west of Aalborg, and could last months depending on the spread of the virus. 

Mink farmer Thorbjoern Jepsen refused to let authorities enter his farm in Gjoel to cull the animals on Friday and a padlock had to be cut. 

Denmark has begun culling at least 2.5 million minks after coronavirus was reported in at least 63 farms in the north of the country. Pictured: Mink breeder Thorbjoern Jepsen holds up a mink, as police forcibly gained access to his mink farm in Gjoel, Denmark, on Friday, October 9

No figures on how many animals have already been killed have yet been given. Minks are seen at a farm in Gjoel, northern Denmark on Friday

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration is handling the culling of the infected animals while breeders who have non-infected animals on a farm within five miles (8km) of an infected farm must put them to sleep themselves.

Flemming Kure Marker of the DVFA said on Monday: ‘We are moving forward, we are getting it done.’ 

No figures on how many animals have already been killed have yet been given. 

Over the weekend, a handful of protesters were removed outside two mink farms, police spokesman Henrik Skals said.

The administration said breeders with non-infected minks will get 100 per cent compensation while those with infected animals will receive less as an incentive for farmers to keep the infection out of their herds.

Employees from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and the Danish Emergency Management Agency transport container at a mink farm, in Gjoel, Denmark, on Thursday, October 8

Denmark is among the largest mink exporters in the world and produces an estimate 17 million furs per year. 

Kopenhagen Fur, a cooperative of 1,500 Danish breeders, accounts for 40 per cent of the global mink production. Most of its exports go to China and Hong Kong.

Chairman of Danish Fur Breeders Association Tage Pedersen said: ‘The coronavirus pandemic could ‘threaten the entire profession.

‘All breeders are right now in a huge amount of uncertainty and frustration over this “meteor” that has fallen on our heads.’

It comes after thousands of mink died on Utah fur farms earlier this month.

Mink breeder Thorbjoern Jepsen walks by minks in their enclosure, at his mink farm in Gjoel, Denmark, on Friday, October 9

Covid-19 first appeared among Utah mink in August, shortly after farm workers contracted the virus, state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor said. 

At least 8,000 mink died of coronavirus in the a ten-day window starting in late September.

It was likely transferred from workers to the animals but Taylor say there are no signs that the minks have infected any humans. 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 50 animals in the U.S. had tested positive for Covid-19 as of September 2.

Pet cats, dogs as well as lions and tigers at a New York zoo have all been found to have contracted the virus in the US according to USDA data. 

A police officer cuts the lock to enter a mink farm, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Gjoel

But mink appear to be particularly susceptible to the coronavirus because of a protein in their lungs – the ACE2 receptor – which binds to the virus. Humans also have the same protein in their lungs. 

According to Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, the presence of this protein appears to predict the vulnerability of a species to the virus.

Mink were first found to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, in April after outbreaks at farms in the Netherlands. Further outbreaks at farms in Denmark and Spain followed. 

Scientists are still digging into how the Danish minks got infected and if they can spread it to people. 

Some may have gotten the virus from infected workers. Dutch authorities say some farm workers later caught the virus back from the minks.

In August, the Netherlands brought forward the mandatory end of mink farming by three years to 2021 amid a growing number of coronavirus infections at fur farms.

In Poland, another large mink fur exporter, the ruling right-wing coalition and the opposition are deeply divided over a new law that would ban fur farms. Opponents say the law will destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of fur farmers.

Covid-19 in humans and mink – what’s the link?

Mink appear to suffer similar coronavirus symptoms to humans.

Difficulty breathing and crusting around the eyes are usually seen in the animals if they are infected.

But in mink, the virus spreads far more rapidly, with most infected mink dead by the next day, according to Utah state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor.

Mink appear to be particularly susceptible to the coronavirus because of a protein in their lungs.

According to Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, the presence of this protein appears to predict the vulnerability of a species to the virus.  

The ACE2 receptor has a spike-like protein on its surface which allows SARS-CoV-2 to bind to it.

This provides an entry point into the body for the virus which ultimately causes COVID-19.  

Humans have the same protein in their bodies, meaning the two species – humans and mink – are more susceptible than other animals that have been found to catch the virus.

Dr Taylor said that while it appears mink caught the virus from humans, there is currently no indication that Covid-19 was spreading back from animals to humans. 

The Netherlands reported a similar outbreak and undertook a mink cull after two people were reported to have been infected by mink, though such cases of animal-to-human transmission are believed to be extremely rare.

According to the CDC: ‘Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.’

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