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Denmark begins excavating bodies of decomposing mink over pollution fears

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Around four million mink were buried at a military field near Noerre Felding at the end of last year.
Around four million mink were buried at a military field near Noerre Felding at the end of last year.   -   Copyright  Mikkel Berg Pedersen/Ritzau via AP
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Denmark has begun excavating the decomposing bodies of four million mink from a military site over environmental concerns.

The country had culled all of its mink population in November over worries that the animals could transmit a mutated form of the coronavirus to humans.

It was feared the newly discovered mutation could threaten the effectiveness of future COVID-19 vaccines.

All of Denmark's 17 million mink were slaughtered at the end of last year, with many of the bodies rushed to two landfill sites in the west of the country.

But due to the risk of pollution to drinking water from the decomposing bodies, the Danish government decided to dig up the carcasses and incinerate them.

On Thursday, specialised teams began digging up some of the 13,000 tonnes of carcasses that will be transported to the Maabjerg Energy Centre for incineration.

"The test excavations of mink are underway in Nørre Felding," Agriculture Minister Rasmus Prehn said on Twitter.

"I am relieved to see that everything is going according to plan," he added.

The MEC has warned that a strong smell from the carcasses could be released into the area during the process, but that this would disappear when the animals were burned at high temperatures.

Residents had previously complained about the potential risk of contamination to a bathing lake, but Denmark had stated that the buried animals would not pose a risk to groundwater or protected areas.

The excavation at the two sites will now reportedly cost 150 million kroner (€20 million).

The Danish government had initially announced the cull despite not having the legal right to order the killing of healthy animals.

The scandal led to the resignation of Denmark's then-Agriculture Minister Mogens Jensen and raised further questions over the government's handling of the pandemic.

The decision to cull all mink devastated the country's fur industry - the largest in the European Union.