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Danish agriculture minister steps down over illegal mink order

A mink is seen at the farm of Henrik Nordgaard Hansen and Ann-Mona Kulsoe Larsen near Naestved, Denmark, November 6, 2020. Ritzau Scanpix/Mads Claus Rasmussen via REUTERS/Files

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Wednesday faced opposition calls to resign after her agriculture minister stepped down over an illegal order by the government to cull the country’s farmed mink.

The government is facing its biggest crisis yet during the coronavirus pandemic after it ordered the culling of all farmed mink earlier this month to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including a new mutated strain, but later admitted the order had no legal basis.

“I want the Prime Minister to do the same,” opposition leader Jakob Ellemann-Jensen of The Liberal Party said, referring to the resignation of Agriculture Minister Mogens Jensen earlier on Wednesday.

“I want the prime minister to acknowledge that when she makes a mistake, it’s her responsibility,” Ellemann-Jensen said.

Frederiksen has apologised publicly and blamed the agriculture ministry for the mistake.

But a government investigation published on Wednesday showed that the decision to cull all mink was taken by all top ministers. It also found that prior to Frederiksen giving the order on live TV on Nov. 4, her office was warned about legal issues with shutting down of the mink farming industry.

Two weeks ago, authorities drafted the military and police to help Denmark’s 1,100 mink farmers cull their 17 million mink, one of the world’s biggest populations of the animals, which are bred for their fur. Farmers said the move would end their business for good.

The government’s drastic decision came after health authorities said the mink industry posed a risk to public health in the country due to widespread outbreaks on farms, exacerbated by the find of a mutated virus strain, which it said could compromise the efficacy of future vaccines.

Danes’ trust in the government has plummeted in the last weeks following the order, according to a study by Aarhus University, with just over half saying they trust the government in mid-November, down from a July high of more than 75%.

Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Louise Heavens, Peter Graff, Alex Richardson and Jonathan Oatis

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