Coronavirus: Calls in Denmark to dig up millions of dead mink

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image captionDiggers tipped piles of dead mink into trenches in Jutland

Opposition MPs in Denmark have urged the government to dig up millions of mink that were buried in mass graves amid Covid-19 fears.

The two burial sites in Jutland are highly controversial - one is near a bathing lake and the other not far from a source of drinking water.

The discovery of a mutated form of the virus prompted a cull of nearly 17 million mink, devastating the Danish fur industry - the largest in the EU.

The burial decision was judged illegal.

The new Agriculture Minister, Rasmus Prehn, said on Friday he supported the idea of exhuming the mink and incinerating them. But that would require the environmental protection agency's approval, he added.

His predecessor Mogens Jensen resigned last week in the furore over the government's legal basis for the cull, as more than 10,000 tonnes of dead mink were hastily buried.

Denmark's DR news reports that about 11 million mink have been culled so far.

Warning: you may find a picture below showing a burial site disturbing

The government has admitted that the cull was mishandled. The grisly mass burial got even more macabre when there were reports of buried mink resurfacing because of the nitrogen and phosphorus gases produced by their decay.

The two mass graves are near Karup and Holstebro.

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image captionDanish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen became tearful when discussing the plight of mink farmers

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wept on Danish TV while visiting a mink farm on Thursday.

"We have two generations of really skilled mink farmers, father and son, who in a very, very short time have had their life's work shattered, and that… It's been emotional for them. Sorry. For me as well," she said, wiping away tears.

Law experts quoted by Danish TV2 say the government went ahead with mass burial without getting an environmental impact assessment.

The opposition Liberal Party (Venstre) says the mink should be dug up and loaded into containers of manure, which would allegedly be a safer disposal method.

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image captionThe cull of 17 million mink is still going on

Environment Minister Lea Wermelin spoke to parliament - the Folketing - on Friday, in a crisis session called to deal with the mink problem.

She admitted that mass burial had not been the best method - incineration would have been preferable - but the spread of Covid-19 on mink farms had made the disposal urgent and there had been no other quick way to handle such a quantity of dead animals.

media captionCritics and supporters of the fur trade speak out

On Danish TV, the Liberals' environment spokesman Thomas Danielsen said "this is a case full of errors and illegalities".

A Socialist People's Party (SF) MP for West Jutland, Signe Munk, called the buried mink "a ticking environmental bomb" and said "the mink must be removed".

The head of the mink breeders' association, Tage Pedersen, said the cull spelt doom for Danish fur producers - a sector employing about 6,000 people and worth $800m (£600m) annually in exported pelts, Reuters news agency reported.

Denmark has about 1,100 mink farms - and so far no compensation deal has been decided.

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