Mink farming temporarily on halt in Denmark – but was it necessary?

In a scandalous turn of events, the Danish government temporarily put an end to mink farming due to concerns over public health. In the process, the order to cull the entire Danish mink herd including healthy animals was recognized as unconstitutional, a circumstance that continues to be met with massive criticism from the opposition, commentators and constitutional experts in Denmark. When the government announced the cull of all mink in Denmark on 4 November, it stressed the reason to be brand new lab tests demonstrating a potential reduced vaccine effect, due to the so-called cluster-5 mutation that amongst other can develop on a mink farm. Shortly after however, international scientists scrutinized the Danish lab test, only to return with the verdict that the Danish risk assessment on global vaccine effects was highly under-researched.

Under-informed decision?

Roughly speaking, the decision has divided Danish public opinion in two: those who in line with the government believe the decision to cull all animals was the right thing to do as a precautionary principle, and those who in line with the opposition parties believe the decision was scientifically under-informed and could have been handled without crumbling the Danish mink industry by eliminating all breeder animals. In particular, the government has been criticized for relying on too narrow scientific advice, leaving behind the Danish tradition of a broad collaboration between involved stakeholders– also coined The Danish Model. The Danish Veterinary Society, for example, stated that “the special insight veterinarians could have contributed to create clarification about possibilities and limitations of diagnostics in animal herds, as well as the handling of internal and external disease transmission.” The veterinary position in Denmark is that too little focus has been put on preventing infections in mink farms in the first place. Instead, the Danish mink strategy spiralled out of control, working against the government’s own commitment to save the mink industry in Denmark.

Minister of Agriculture steps down

Meanwhile, the illegal order to cull healthy mink will stand until mid-December. Since all Danish opposition parties refuse to provide 3/4 of the parliamentary vote needed to make the culling order constitutional, only the normal, more time consuming, the democratic process will work to make the order legal for the government. In practical terms, the delayed legislation makes no difference: The Danish mink farmers have loyally culled their mink in spite of the unconstitutional order given to them by the government. Until now the scandalous handling of ‘minkgate’ has led to the departure of the Danish agricultural minister on 18 November, but the government’s refusal to withdraw the illegal culling order rightfully raises questions over the state of democracy in Denmark. The last consequence may not have been seen yet in what commentators and politicians have coined the biggest democratic scandal in Danish history. The ban on mink farming in Denmark is temporary, and the law proposal in making works with an option for mink farmers to return to business, when the global pandemic is under control. The full potential of Danish mink farming is, however, unlikely to recover given the uncertain circumstances. To date, 284 mink farms have been infected in Denmark. They have all been culled.