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World’s Biggest Fur Auction House Blames Mink Cull for Shutdown Plans

Denmark’s Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house, has announced plans to wind down operations after the Danish government ordered a widespread cull of the country’s mink in an effort to control a coronavirus mutation that has jumped from animals to humans.

While the 90-year-old cooperative said Thursday that it anticipates a normal sorting and selling season in 2021—and it expects to hold auctions in 2022 and possibly one or two in 2023—the government’s decision that all mink must be killed challenges its viability in the long term.

Jesper Lauge, CEO at Kopenhagen Fur, which is responsible for some 40 percent of global mink production, said he has informed the company’s 300-plus employees that it is looking into shutting down in a “couple of years.”

“Unfortunately, the loss of the Danish mink production means that the ownership base disappears and therefore the company’s management has decided to gradually downsize the company and make a controlled shutdown over a period of two to three years,” Lauge said in a statement, noting the company’s “very strong” financial performance, which must now “rightfully accrue to the owners who are in an extreme and unusually difficult situation.” (The auction house finished 2019 with a pre-tax profit of $33.4 million Danish kroner, or roughly $5 million.)

Until then, business will go on as usual. Kopenhagen Fur says it will receive between five million and six million Danish skins from non-infected farms over the next few weeks, which it will offer at four planned auctions next year alongside six million unsold skins from 2019 and the “usual millions of skins” from farmers in other fur-producing countries.

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“As a company, we are in operation and are looking into a completely normal sales season, where we offer the world’s finest mink skins, as we usually do,” Lauge said. “Our sorters are ready to receive the skins and the auction team is already working deep into the detailed planning.”

The government’s call to cull Denmark’s mink population, which numbers between 15 million and 17 million, emerged last week after a growing number of mink farms started reporting a mutated form of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, that can spread to humans. It walked back on the decision, however, citing an overreach of its authority that limits its jurisdiction to infected mink or herds within a safety radius.

“It is a mistake. It is a regrettable mistake,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told parliament on Tuesday.

To date, 2.9 million animals from both infected and non-infected farms have already been destroyed, with culls completed on 116 farms, according to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. As of this week, 237 farms in Jutland have flagged coronavirus outbreaks, and 12 mink handlers have contracted the so-called “cluster 5” variant of SARS-CoV-2.

While the impetus for the order stemmed from fears that the mutated virus could undermine a potential vaccine, jeopardizing a longed-for end to the current pandemic, it remains unclear just how much of a threat it poses.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, said at an event organized by U.K. think tank Chatham House Thursday that the mutation detected in Denmark’s mink farms “probably” won’t compromise vaccines that are in development, though it could complicate treatments such as monoclonal antibodies, laboratory-engineered proteins that enhance or mimic the immune system’s ability to battle viruses.

Maria van Kerkhove, Covid-19 technical lead for the World Health Organization, told a briefing in Geneva last Friday that though transmission of the virus between animals and humans is a concern, “mutations [in viruses] are normal [and] these type of changes in the virus are something we have been tracking since the beginning.” Still, van Kerkhove says the agency is looking at biosecurity around mink farms across the globe to prevent further “spillover events.”

Similarly, while the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Thursday that the virus mutation found in Danish mink “could potentially affect the level of overall vaccine effectiveness of vaccines under development,” it also noted that “further investigations are required “regarding the nature of these mutations and their implications for issues such as vaccine effectiveness.”

The cloud of uncertainty has left the fur industry—and its supporters—bristling.

“Kopenhagen Fur’s large international customer group might of course have difficulties understanding the past week’s development in Denmark,” Lauge said. “Many customers have based their entire business model on Danish mink as the ultimate stamp of quality.”

But animal-rights groups say that Kopenhagen Fur’s closure is just another sign of a gathering anti-fur zeitgeist that has prompted a burgeoning number of brands and retailers, including Chanel, Burberry, Farfetch, Gucci, Nordstrom, Prada, Versace and Yoox Net-a-Porter, to shed the material from their collections and facilitated fur bans in San Francisco, Los Angeles and perhaps New York.

“PETA is celebrating the demise of one of the cruelest institutions on the planet,” Dan Mathews, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told Sourcing Journal. “For over 80 years, Kopenhagen Fur has bought and sold the corpses of countless animals who endured miserable lives inside cramped cages before being killed for their fur. Since the public and nearly every designer now shuns fur, it’s not surprising that the two biggest fur houses in the world—in Canada and Denmark—have collapsed.”

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that some 100 million fur-bearing animals such as rabbits, foxes, chinchilla and mink are killed each year for their hides. Roughly 85 percent originate from fur factory farms, while the rest are trapped in the wild, it noted.