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Major fur auctioneer to shut down following link between mink and COVID-19 in Demark

Order to cull millions of mink canceled
Danish government stops order to cull millions of mink over COVID-19 mutation 00:31

Kopenhagen Fur, which describes itself as the world's largest fur auctioneer, said this week it will shut its doors in a few years. Some say this could be one element signaling the start of the end of the global fur trade. 

The cooperative of 1,500 breeders, which was founded in 1930, said a government announcement earlier this month to kill 15 million mink — to minimize the risk of them transmitting COVID-19 to humans — "changes the basic platform of the company in the long term." 

"Unfortunately, the loss of the Danish mink production means that the ownership base disappears and therefore, the company's management has decided to gradually downsize the company and make a controlled shutdown over a period of 2-3 years," the company said Thursday on its website. 

The government has pulled back on the mink cull order announced earlier this month due to legal issues, and now recommends that farmers cull minks, rather than mandating it. Kopenhagen Fur released the news about its company after the government backtracked on its order.

CEO Jesper Lauge told the company's more than 300 employees on Thursday that the business will close a couple of years from now, according to Kopenhagen Fur.

Denmark is among the main exporters of mink fur globally. It produces about 17 million furs every year, according to the Associated Press, and Kopenhagen Fur accounts for 40% of mink production worldwide.

"Kopenhagen Fur's large international customer group has difficulty understanding the past week's development in Denmark," the auction house said on its website. "Many customers have based their entire business model on Danish mink."

Mink carcasses are disposed of at a farm due to novel coronavirus mutation in Farre
Mink carcasses are disposed of at a farm in Farre in the southern part of Jutland, Denmark, October 21, 2020. Ritzau Scanpix/Mette Moerk/REUTERS

"Kopenhagen Fur is built on the cooperative spirit's belief in the individual and its strength in the community," Lauge said. "Unfortunately, even the strongest community cannot survive the consequences of the decisions that have now been made."

On the same day as the announcement, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control published a report highlighting the evolution of coronavirus in mink and its potential to impact human diagnosis, treatment and vaccine development. 

Scientists have found that a mutation of the virus, called cluster 5, has the potential to undermine future vaccine efforts, but emphasized that further research is still needed. 

"The ECDC risk report and the announcement by Kopenhagen Fur that it will cease trading could very well signal the beginning of the end of the worldwide fur trade," Dr. Joanna Swabe, senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International/Europe, said in a news release. "Fur farms are not only the cause of immense and unnecessary animal suffering, but they are also ticking time bombs for deadly diseases, potential virus factories capable of churning out mutations of COVID-19 and even undermining medical progress towards reliable treatments."

Denmark's Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said earlier this month that half the 783 human COVID-19 cases in northern Denmark "are related" to mink. 

On Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said the mutation detected in Denmark will not compromise vaccines that are in development. 

Mink have prompted coronavirus concerns in the U.S., too, but officials said there was no evidence of animals infecting humans. Last month, officials said some 12,000 of the animals had died of the disease on farms in Utah and Wisconsin, which have seen steep declines in recent years, even before the pandemic. 

On Friday, PETA said the fur industry is "well and truly dead" following Kopenhagen Fur's announcement. 

"We cannot simply wait for the next pandemic to emerge. Governments must end the cruel and risky fur trade for good and focus instead on supporting fur farmers as they move to humane, safe and economically viable livelihoods," Swabe said. "There was never going to be a happy ending for the 60 million mink exploited for fur annually, but stopping breeding them altogether would be the best way to prevent animals suffering in the future for the fickle whims of fashion." 

Doctor on COVID-19 surge, mutation in mink, and impact on mental health 06:24
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