Fur coats. Shutterstock
Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest auction house for furs, is closing down after Denmark’s government ordered a mass cull of the country’s mink in an effort to fight a coronavirus mutation.
The development marks the end of an era in Denmark, which was the world’s biggest producer of mink until last week. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen stunned the industry on Nov. 4 when she told Danish mink farmers to start culling their herds. She said scientists had discovered a rare mutation of the coronavirus — cluster 5 — which had the potential to derail vaccine efforts.
The 90-year-old company still has enough pelts to hold auctions next year and possibly further into the future, but will start liquidating the business after that, according to a statement on its website.
Mink farmers, who were offered financial incentives to start as soon as possible, embarked on a mass cull that, in some cases, was so rushed that errors were made. Denmark’s main animal rights group, Dyrenes Beskyttelse, has reported the Danish state to the police amid accusations of cruelty. Meanwhile, thousands of mink carcasses were strewn across a main Danish motorway, according to eye-witness reports.
Denmark’s warning that the virus mutation found in its mink posed a particular threat to vaccines has been challenged. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, said on Thursday that the mutation detected in the country’s mink farms won’t compromise vaccines that are in development.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said on Thursday that the virus mutation found in Danish mink “could potentially affect the level of overall vaccine effectiveness of vaccines under development.” But it also pointed to “high uncertainty,” and said “further investigations are required regarding the nature of these mutations and their implications for issues such as vaccine effectiveness.”
The added layer of doubt has angered the fur industry and left the government struggling to defend itself as public opinion builds against it. According to a poll published by Politiken, Danish support for the government’s Covid strategy is at its lowest ever, at 56% of those surveyed as of this week, compared with 76% in July.
“Kopenhagen Fur’s large international customer group has difficulty understanding the past week’s development in Denmark,” the auction house said. “Many customers have based their entire business model on Danish mink.”
The government’s handling of the crisis has drawn condemnation from a united parliament. Frederiksen’s order to wipe out Denmark’s entire mink population lacked a legal mandate, forcing the government to regroup and draft an emergency bill. That failed to win the three-quarters parliamentary support needed to pass, and the legislative process is now in limbo.
Mink accounts for about 0.7% of Danish exports, and employs roughly 3,000 people in the country. Lawmakers are now working on a rescue package for Denmark’s mink industry, which might be as big as $2.2 billion, according to broadcaster TV2.
Tage Pedersen, the chairman of the Danish Fur Breeders’ Association, which owns Kopenhagen Fur, told Bloomberg earlier this week that the government’s decision to order a mass cull means there’s “no way back” for the industry. “Even if a few farmers somehow survive, there’s still no future.”
Frederiksen’s government, which still expects a standard bill to pass with a simple majority of more than 50%, wants all Danish mink farming to be banned until 2022. That means breeding animals will be wiped out, effectively shuttering the industry for good.
By Morten Buttler and Christian Wienberg