Dead mink culled in Denmark because of fears over a COVID-19 mutation were reported to be rising from their graves this month as their bodies expanded during the decaying process.
In a statement to Newsweek, the animal welfare charity Humane Society International said: “The mink who have been gassed to death in Denmark were buried in mass shallow graves, where their decaying bodies have started to produce gases as part of the decomposing process, which makes their bodies expand and push back up through the soil.
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Earlier this month, members of the Danish military and police were deployed to help farmers cull millions of mink, which are bred for their fur.
Police were reported to have shovelled additional soil on top of the corpses in an attempt to remedy the situation. Thousands of the animals were buried in a 3.3-foot-deep trench at a military training field in the west of the Jutland peninsula.
Thomas Kristensen, a spokesperson for Danish police, told state broadcaster DR: “As the bodies decay, gases can be formed. This causes the whole thing to expand a little. In this way, in the worst cases, the mink get pushed out of the ground.
“This is a natural process. Unfortunately, one meter of soil is not just one meter of soil—it depends on what type of soil it is. The problem is that the sandy soil in West Jutland is too light. So, we have had to lay more soil on top,” Kristensen said.
Concerns have been raised over the risk of contamination because the corpses are near drinking water reserves and other bodies of water.
“Decaying animal carcasses are always going to be undesirable from a public health point of view, but what authorities in Denmark appear most concerned about is the proximity of the corpse piles to local rivers, lakes and drinking water reserves that they fear could become contaminated,” the Humane Society International told Newsweek.
“Certainly that needs to be looked at, but the truth is fur farming itself is inherently polluting, just the same as other forms of intensive animal farming because the animals produce tons of manure which risks running into local waterways,” it added.
The Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark said the incident was a “temporary problem tied to the decaying process,” noting that the area would be monitored daily until a fence was erected “to avoid potential problems for animals and humans.”
The mink corpses were reported to have been disinfected and covered with lime before burial, according to Kristensen. He explained that the risk posed by the decomposing bodies was small because live mink mostly transmit COVID-19 by exhaling it into the air.
However, Kristensen warned that “small quantities of bacteria may still be trapped in their fur,” noting that it is “never healthy to get close to dead animals, so therefore this is of course something to stay away from.”
The Humane Society International said: “Few people realise that the fur of animals like mink or fox used in fashion would also naturally decompose just like these buried mink, if it were not for the fact that the fur trade treats it with chemicals to stop it decaying.”
Efforts to cull mink infected with COVID-19 in Denmark began in June, but outbreaks at mink farms have continued. A new strain of the virus discovered among the mink, which had also infected some humans, could pose a risk to future COVID vaccines, according to authorities, Reuters reported this month.
Denmark is the world’s largest producer of mink skins, with about 1,500 fur farmers, according to the Danish Agriculture & Food Council.
Earlier this month, animal welfare campaigners called for the fur trade to end as millions of mink were culled.
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