COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark this week began digging up millions of culled mink buried six months ago because of concerns that the mass graves could contaminate drinking water and a nearby bathing lake.
The Danish government ordered the country's entire mink herd - one of the world's biggest at some 17 million - to be culled in early November after hundreds of mink farms suffered outbreaks of coronavirus and authorities found mutated strains of the virus among people.
Most of the mink were burned in waste incinerators, but limited capacity forced authorities to bury some four million mink, or 13 million tonnes, at military areas in western Denmark.
Some mink soon resurfaced from the sandy soil after gasses from decomposition pushed them out of the ground, prompting complaints from locals about possible health risks.
Tests over three days ending on Saturday will check the texture and smell of the dead animals and how well they burn.
Under a government plan, excavation will begin in late-May and all mink will be dug up and burned at 13 central heating plants around the country by mid-July.
The order to cull in November last year prompted Denmark's agriculture minister to step down after the government admitted it did not have a legal basis to order healthy mink to be killed.
New agriculture minister Rasmus Prehn told local media that the excavation was embarrassing as he witnessed the start of the process on Thursday.
(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; editing by Barbara Lewis)