Denmark is the largest producer of mink fur in the world. The country has fifteen to seventeen million animals on more than one thousand farms. Experts estimate that the 2020 population is worth more than four hundred million dollars US . A coronavirus mink mutation, however, may destroy the industry.
On November 4, 2020, the prime minister of Denmark announced that they would be culling the country’s mink population. Authorities made this decision due to fears that this coronavirus mink mutation would jeopardize the efficacy of future vaccines.
Coronavirus Mink Mutation
Health authorities in Denmark have found a strain of the coronavirus in both humans and minks that is less sensitive to antibodies. This mutation could potentially lower the efficacy of future coronavirus treatments.
It appears that humans initially infected minks with the virus. The virus then mutated in the minks, who then re-infected humans. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergency program, called on October 30th for full scientific investigations into this issue.
“We have been informed by Denmark of a number of persons infected with coronavirus from mink, with some genetic changes in the virus,” WHO said in a statement. “The Danish authorities are investigating the epidemiological and virological significance of these findings.” 
According to Danish authorities, they have recorded five new cases of the coronavirus mink mutation on mink farms, and twelve new cases in humans . Coronavirus cases have been occurring on mink farms in other parts of Europe as well. Cases in Denmark, however, seem to be spreading more rapidly .
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The Coronavirus Mink Mutation May Jeopardize Future Vaccines
Experts know that minks, similarly to ferrets, are susceptible to the coronavirus. Like humans, they can show a wide range of symptoms, from no symptoms at all to severe pneumonia. There are approximately fifty million minks in the world that are bred for their fur. This takes place primarily in China, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Poland.
The main concern with regards to coronavirus infections in minks is that it will jeopardize the efficacy of future vaccines. This is because this coronavirus mink mutation appears to have a lower sensitivity to antibodies .
Antibodies are proteins that bind to foreign invaders. They are like your immune system’s search-and-destroy system. If a virus has a lower sensitivity to them, however, they are significantly less effective. This makes you much more susceptible to severe illness .
Culling Minks Around the World
To prevent further outbreaks of this coronavirus mink mutation, authorities in Denmark have decided to cull the country’s mink population.
“We have a great responsibility towards our own population, but with the mutation that has now been found, we have an even greater responsibility for the rest of the world as well,” said Prime Minister Mitte Frederiksen .
Christian Sonne is a professor of Veterinary and Wildlife Medicine at Aarhus University. He agrees with the government’s decision, citing that future outbreaks would be difficult to control. This, he says, is a sound precautionary measure .
According to Denmark’s health minister, about half of the 783 coronavirus cases in Northern Denmark stemmed from mink farms.
Spain already culled one hundred thousand minks due to an outbreak. in July. Authorities and breeders in the Netherland have also been forced to kill some of their mink populations .
The End of Mink Fur Farming?
Birgitte Damm is a policy adviser and vet with NGO Animal Protection Denmark. She says that what really needs to happen is to end mink farming entirely. It is not entirely impossible that the coronavirus may spell the end of the mink fur industry in the country.
Dr Joanna Swabe is the Humane Society International/Europe’s senior director of public affairs. She says that this complete shutdown of the Danish mink fur industry is a significant development.
“Although not a ban on fur farming, this move signals the end of suffering for millions of animals confined to small wire cages on Danish fur farms solely for the purposes of a trivial fur fashion that no one needs,” she said. “We commend the Danish prime minister on her decision to take such an essential and science-led step to protect Danish citizens from the deadly coronavirus.” 
It is sad that these animals will lose their lives because of the virus, but in one sense it is better for them. They spend their short lives in cages with no quality of life. This mass culling is simply ending their suffering early.
One can only hope that this development will shed light on the cruelties of the fur farming industry, and bring it to an end completely.
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