Denmark's prime minister said Wednesday that the government wants to cull all 15 million mink in Danish farms to minimize the risk of them re-transmitting the new coronavirus to humans. Mette Frederiksen said a report from a government agency that maps the coronavirus in Denmark has shown a mutation in the virus found in 12 people in the northern part of the country who got infected by mink.
Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said half the 783 human COVID-19 cases in northern Denmark "are related" to mink.
"It is very, very serious," Frederiksen said. "Thus, the mutated virus in mink can have devastating consequences worldwide."
Mink have prompted coronavirus concerns in the U.S. recently, too, but officials said there was no evidence of animals infecting humans. Last month, officials said some 12,000 of the animals had died of the disease on farms in Utah and Wisconsin. The United States Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) said humans working on one Utah farm who had COVID-19 in July likely transferred the virus to the animals, and there were no signs that the mink had infected any workers.
A spokesperson for Utah's Department of Agriculture told CBS News' Sophie Lewis that the research done in the state, "still supports that the disease has spread from humans to mink and that the risk of the opposite transmission is very low."
Denmark is one of the world's main mink fur exporters, producing an estimated 17 million furs per year. Kopenhagen Fur, a cooperative of 1,500 Danish breeders, accounts for 40% of the global mink production. Most of its exports go to China and Hong Kong.
According to government estimates, culling the country's 15 million mink could cost up to 5 billion kroner ($785 million). National police head Thorkild Fogde said "it should happen as soon as possible."
Denmark's minister for food, Mogens Jensen, said 207 farms were now infected, up from 41 last month, and the disease has spread to all of the western peninsula of Jutland.
Last month, Denmark started culling millions of mink in the north of the country. The government has promised to compensate farmers.
The country has registered 50,530 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 729 deaths.
A total of 207 out of the 1,139 fur farms in Denmark has been infected with COVID-19, which prompted the announcement. Millions of mink will be killed as a result.
Animal welfare group Humane Society International applauded the prime minister for taking "such an essential and science-based step to protect Danish citizens," and said it hoped that losing so many mink to the coronavirus causes fur farms to get out of the business.
"Although the death of millions of mink — whether culled for COVID-19 or killed for fur — is an animal welfare tragedy, fur farmers will now have a clear opportunity to pivot away from this cruel and dying industry and choose a more humane and sustainable livelihood instead," Humane Society International-Europe spokesperson Joanna Swabe said.