Covid: Ireland set to cull all 120,000 mink on its fur farms over fears of virus spreading

Chief medical officer told ministers animals should be killed ‘as a matter of urgency’ after outbreaks among mink in Denmark

Jane Dalton
Friday 20 November 2020 00:02 GMT
Danish mink are being culled after they were found to have a mutated form of coronavirus that spread to humans
Danish mink are being culled after they were found to have a mutated form of coronavirus that spread to humans (Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Ima)

Ireland is preparing to cull all 120,000 mink in the country’s fur farms, becoming the fifth country to do so because of the risk of coronavirus spreading to humans.

Agriculture chiefs have told the owners of Ireland’s three mink farms they must kill the animals to prevent mutated strains infecting people.

They acted after chief medical officer Tony Holohan told the government that all the country’s farmed mink population should be culled “as a matter of urgency”.

In Denmark, more than 200 people were diagnosed with a variant of coronavirus earlier this year, after the disease was thought to have spread among fur farm animals that then infected humans.  

Health authorities worldwide fear that vaccines being developed could prove ineffective against any variants of Covid-19.

As concerns rose that mink could continue to pass a mutated strain back to humans, the Danish prime minister ordered all the country’s 17 million mink be culled as a preventive measure. Greece, Spain, and the Netherlands did the same.

But to date, no mink on Irish fur farms have tested positive for Covid-19, and farm owners have accused the government of culling healthy animals “without providing any scientific or legal basis”, broadcaster RTE said

Last year the Irish government began preparing legislation to phase out fur farming after years of pressure from opponents of the practice. 

However, the mink farmers involved say the new decision leaves “three farm families in rural Ireland devastated and without a livelihood”.

Gerald Barry, a virologist at University College Dublin, told RTE the cull was “a little bit of an overreaction” and that the science did not yet justify it.

He said the variant in mink in Denmark was "no more dangerous or transmissible” than any other variant in the human population.

But Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK said: “The breeding and killing of animals for frivolous fur undoubtedly poses a real threat to human health, as well as being abhorrently cruel.  

“We urge the Irish government to deliver the promised legislative proposal to permanently close its remaining three mink farms to prevent new breeding reservoirs for deadly diseases in the future.  

“And for mink farming countries not yet doing any kind of systematic testing, this should be a serious wake-up call to take urgent action.”  

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