Danish officials have been sharply criticized by a parliamentary inquiry into the botched culling of 17mn farmed mink at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The scandal over the slaughter in 2020 of Denmark’s entire population of mink over fears the animals could spread new variants of the virus had threatened to bring down the government of prime minister Mette Frederiksen. The Mink Commission report published on Thursday castigated 10 senior officials, including Barbara Bertelsen, head of the prime minister’s office, for their role in the debacle that cost taxpayers billions of krone in compensation.
The prime minister’s office “acted very reprehensibly in the process”, the commission concluded.
It also found that Frederiksen issued “grossly misleading” statements about the legality of the cull when she announced it on November 4 2020 but accepted her explanation that she had not done so deliberately.
The commission, which was composed of a judge and two legal experts appointed by parliament, said it was therefore not in a position to conclude Frederiksen was guilty of gross negligence. However, parliament could still pursue legal charges against her.
Giving evidence to the inquiry last year, Frederiksen said she had not realized the cull had lacked a legal basis when she ordered it.
Denmark was the world’s second-largest producer of mink fur after China — and the biggest exporter — until the government decided to eradicate all the creatures and to ban mink farming for two years over fears it could generate new strains of the virus and threaten the effectiveness of Covid vaccines.
The cull descended into farce when it emerged days after it was announced that the government had no legal basis for it, triggering the resignation of the agriculture minister. Some scientists questioned whether mink really posed a threat of viral mutation.
Thousands of dead mink were lost from trucks on to Danish roads and the authorities were later forced to exhume thousands of tons of dead animals after swollen corpses came to the surface and threatened drinking water supplies.
The government banned mink breeding until the end of this year, pending the outcome of a scientific review. In May, the Danish public health institute said there was a very low risk that mink farming would lead to the emergence of new variants of concern.
Denmark’s parliament voted last year to grant mink farmers up to DKr19bn ($3.1bn) in compensation for the loss of their businesses and future earnings.
More than 1,200 mink farmers applied for compensation for permanently shutting their farms, whereas only 15 applied for compensation for a temporary suspension, suggesting the overwhelming majority do not intend to restart breeding.
The commission of inquiry did not have the power to recommend criminal charges over the affair, but the Danish parliament could appoint independent lawyers to assess whether ministers and officials should be held accountable.
Frederiksen will hold a press conference in response to the commission’s findings on Friday.