A parliamentary commission grilled Denmark’s prime minister on Thursday over her government’s illegal decision last year to cull all farmed minks nationwide over fears of a new coronavirus variant, which she insisted was the right thing to do, AFP reports.
Formerly the world’s leading exporter of mink fur, the Scandinavian country in November last year controversially decided to kill all of its 15-17 million minks after studies suggested the variant found in some of the animals could jeopardise the effectiveness of future vaccines.
A large crowd of protesters gathered outside the court in Copenhagen, booing the prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, as she arrived.
“We unfortunately had to make a decision a year ago to cull all minks, and that was the right decision,” Frederiksen told reporters before rushing into the courtroom where the hearing was held.
The commission is seeking to determine whether the prime minister was aware that the order had no legal basis – a fact that emerged soon after the cull was under way and led the country’s agriculture minister to resign.
“It was in my view crucial that we acted quickly,” the prime minister told the hearing, adding that she knew the decision would be devastating for the industry.
At the time, the government only had the authority to ask mink farmers in the seven municipalities affected by the mutation to cull their minks.
An agreement was reached retroactively, rendering the government’s decision legal, and the nationwide cull went ahead as planned.
Prior to the cull, Denmark was also the world’s second largest producer of mink fur after China.
At the outset of her hearing, Frederiksen stressed that government decisions are made by the relevant cabinet ministers, even though she formally announced the cull.
A specially appointed parliamentary commission has since April been scrutinising the government’s decision and all documents related to it, as well as questioning witnesses to dissect the decision-making process.
Ultimately, the commission will decide whether to recommend Frederiksen’s impeachment before a special court that judges the actions of cabinet members while in office.
Frederiksen has maintained that she did not know her decision was unlawful, and has insisted that it was “based on a very serious risk assessment”.
In October, controversy around the decision was reignited when it was revealed that Frederiksen’s text messages from the time had disappeared.
Her office said they had been automatically deleted after 30 days for security reasons.
But many politicians greeted the claim with scepticism. Only two of the 51 ministers and ex-ministers interviewed by the public broadcaster DR said they had the same setting installed on their phones while in office.
The commission called on police and intelligence services to help, but they were unable to recover the text messages.
Media and lawmakers have repeatedly questioned Frederiksen on the issue.
A few weeks after the cull in the North Jutland region in north-western Denmark, where many mink farms were concentrated, the mutation was declared “very likely extinct”.
The Danish parliament later passed an emergency law that banned the breeding of the mammals in 2021, which was then extended to 2022, a blow to the industry.
Mink is the only animal so far confirmed to be capable of both contracting Covid-19 and recontaminating humans.