Dutch culling 350,000 mink over coronavirus fears

DE MORTEL, Netherlands, June 9 (Reuters) - Workers in protective equipment oversaw the gassing of 10,000 mother mink and around 50,000 mink pups on a farm in the southern Dutch town of De Mortel on Tuesday over fears they could infect humans with the new coronavirus.

The Kuunders farm is one of 10 mink farms in the Netherlands where the ferret-like animals, which are bred for their fur, have been ordered culled after some tested positive for the disease. The animal outbreaks, which originated from human handlers, were first noticed in April.

In May, the Dutch government reported two cases where mink then transmitted the disease to humans, in what are the only animal-to-human cases on record since the global outbreak began in China.

Pieter Jacobs of the Dutch Foods and Wares authority, which is overseeing the cull, said the animals’ bodies will be transported to a disposal centre in a sealed shipping container and the farm will be disinfected.

He estimated that all told, 75,000 mothers and 300,000 pups will be killed on the 10 infected farms, with four additional possible cases being investigated. There are some 140 mink farms in the Netherlands, despite an impending 2024 ban.

Farmer Twan Kuunders said government compensation for the animals is so far inadequate and his only hope to avoid bankruptcy, with the loss of 15 jobs, is to restart his business once the epidemic has passed.

“But that will only be possible once the coronavirus in the Netherlands dies down, which I hope it does,” he said. “Otherwise it’s going to be difficult,” he said, citing a government ban on movement of the animals and the threat of reinfection.

Animal rights groups, which oppose the fur trade on cruelty grounds, have called for the farming ban to be implemented immediately.

According to the Dutch Federation of Pelt Farmers, the Netherlands exports around 90 million euros ($101 million) worth of fur a year for use in China and globally. Denmark, China, the Netherlands and Poland are major fur producers, though no mink infections have been reported outside the Netherlands.

Reporting by Piroschka van de Wouw and Toby Sterling; editing by Philippa Fletcher