Denmark begins excavation of ‘zombie mink’ corpses to create electric power

Bodies mixed with waste at biomass plant to create heat and electricity

A excavator loads bodies of culled mink into a truck before it is taken to a local biomass plant. AFP
A excavator loads bodies of culled mink into a truck before it is taken to a local biomass plant. AFP

Denmark started excavating four million mink, culled in an effort to tackle coronavirus strains, over concerns the bodies could pollute public drinking water and a popular swimming lake.

They are being unearthed and incinerated after a cull that was later declared illegal, and hastily arranged burials over which Danish agriculture minister Mogens Jensen lost his job.

Only weeks after the initial interment last November, a number of mink corpses, buoyed by a build-up of gases, rose to the surface, earning the nickname zombie mink.

All 15 million of the country’s farmed animals were killed in 2020 after it emerged they were carrying a coronavirus strain that experts feared could evade vaccines and infect human beings.

Twelve people became infected with a variant thought to be more dangerous than the original coronavirus.

A biomass plant announced that it would use at least 30 tonnes of dead mink and will now mix the bodies with the usual household waste collected at the site, said Nils Ulrik Nielsen, chairman of Maabjerg Energy Centre, near Holstebro in western Denmark.

“It’s going well so far,” Mr Nielsen told DR, the Danish public broadcaster. “We didn’t know in advance what problems the mink might raise, but they’re part of the operation here now. They will become heat … and electricity for the grid.”

On Thursday, teams started digging up some of the 13,000 tonnes of mink carcasses due to be unearthed.

"I am relieved to see how the whole thing is going according to plan," new Agriculture Minister Rasmus Prehn said.

The $24.4 million excavation is taking place at two sites near a bathing lake and a source of drinking water after residents complained about the potential risk of contamination.

epa09196647 Buried minks are being dug out in a trial excavation at a military area close to Noerre Felding, Denmark, 13 May 2021. Around four million minks were buried in the end of 2020 after they were culled in connection with the COVID-19 disease over fears that they could carry a mutation of the coronavirus. The animals will now be dug out and burnt. EPA/Mikkel Berg Pedersen DENMARK OUT
The site is in a military area and close to a lake. EPA

Before the animals were buried, authorities said they would not pose a risk to groundwater or protected areas.

Mr Prehn said that neighbours were not “given proper information and their drinking water and the bathing lake here have been in danger”.

“Now we are removing the source of the pollution,” he said. “It has been an extraordinary situation with great insecurity for the citizens. We are fixing that now.”

The government announced the cull despite having no right to order the killing of healthy animals. That embarrassing mis-step underscored the need to build political consensus to push through new legislation.

Updated: May 14, 2021 05:06 PM

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