The operation would have required help from the military and a mass mink burial. Members of Parliament refused to push through a bill that would authorize the slaughter, broadcaster TV2 reported.
The decision to kill the animals, which are essential to the country’s lucrative fur industry, had come after the discovery of a coronavirus mutation that spread from Danish minks to at least 12 humans in August and September. Health officials considered the mutation concerning because those infected appeared to show less ability to produce antibodies, which could reduce the potential effectiveness of a vaccine.
Some countries reacted promptly. The British government reimposed its quarantine requirement Friday for travelers arriving from Denmark, with British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps citing the coronavirus outbreaks among Danish minks.
The same day, Denmark put about 280,000 citizens, or 5 percent of its population, under a partial lockdown to prevent the spread of the mutation.
Though the mutation was confirmed on only five mink farms, the government ordered the killing of all minks across more than 1,000 farms in the country.
Some researchers cautioned that the response might be premature, and the World Health Organization said that the implications of the mutation are not yet known.
In Denmark, the political opposition seized on such skepticism, accusing the government of overstepping its legal authority in pursuing the logistically complex operation.
Center-right Liberal party Chairman Jakob Ellemann-Jensen told TV2 that the government was “gambling with Danish democracy.” He said his party is unwilling to back a bill that does not address compensation for mink farmers.
Some critics suggested that the process was being rushed in the absence of adequate evidence.
Danish officials defended the swift response. “Instead of waiting for evidence, it is better to act quickly,” said Tyra Grove Krause, an official at Denmark’s infectious diseases agency, according to the Associated Press.
But after saying that all minks “must be killed” and offering financial incentives to farmers who got it done quickly, Danish authorities backtracked Monday and admitted they could not legally order culls outside designated high-risk zones.
Denmark’s minister for agriculture Mogens Jensen issued an apology. “We’ve made a mistake,” Jensen, who faced calls to resign on Tuesday, told TV2.
A hasty attempt to create a legal basis for the culling order failed in parliament.
The legislative gridlock could result in weeks of political discussions, leaving mink farmers without clear guidance. Some had already culled tens of thousands of their animals by the time questions over the order’s legitimacy emerged.
Farzan reported from Washington.