Denmark has embarked on the unpleasant task of exhuming 4 million mink carcasses to avoid polluting the water supply.
The mink carcasses buried after last autumn’s mass cull will be dug up for incineration. The decomposing carcasses will be burnt at 13 waste facilities. The so-called “test exhumation” began at Nørre Felding, south of Holsterbro, on Thursday.
Those living in close proximity to the mink burial sites have been warned in advance that they may be exposed to a noxious stench when the decomposed carcasses, whose consistency has been compared to feta cheese, are brought to the surface.
“I regret that this will cause some noise and some smell, but I think the residents would rather have this for a short period, and then know that the problem is solved and the risk of pollution eliminated, than have to live with the uncertainty for many years going forward” Agriculture Minister Rasmus Prehn said in a statement.
The dig at Nørre Felding, a military area in northern Zealand, will be used to assess the condition of the carcasses after six months buried under soil and lime, before quickly moving on to full-scale exhumation.
“We have some descriptions, that it the condition should be soapy. But the consistency of how dry or wet the mass is, we actually do not know until it all comes up. But we expect it to smell,” operations manager from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration Kasper Klintø told Danish Radio.
According to Klintø, instead of burning the carcasses close to the graves in larger bonfires that would produce a lot of smoke, they will be incinerated under controlled conditions with the purpose of conserving energy for heating.
“You can smell it clearly when the truck carrying the minks drives by, but it’s peanuts compared to standing in a pigsty,” TV Midvest reporter Svend Vilhelm Mikkelsen said.
In total, over 15 million minks were gassed last year in a bid to prevent the spread of mutant strains of COVID-19. The grim saga has since involved bloated carcasses dubbed “zombie mink” emerging from the ground and a government crisis dubbed "Minkgate" timely averted by a cross-party agreement retroactively green-lighting the decision.
This decision effectively shut down the fur industry that used to be the world's largest producer. With competitors eliminated (such as Denmark) or severely hamstrung (like the Netherlands), the international market for mink fur, a prized commodity and a staple in the fashion industry, is facing an uncertain future.