The Danish government is lobbying the European Commission in Brussels to prevent the mink from ending up on the ‘invasive species’ list of animals which Brussels wants to keep away from Europe because of the environmental damage they can cause.
The Danes worry that a Commission proposal to ban non-native plants and animals in the EU could include the North American mink, which are heavily farmed by Denmark for their fur.
Danish farmers produce 15 million mink every year, which makes Denmark the biggest mink producer in the world.
The auction house Kopenhagen Fur estimated Denmark's mink export was worth €1.5 billion in 2012. Other mink fur producers in the EU include Finland, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.
There are over 12,000 non-native species in Europe, which, according to experts, represent a large threat to the continent's biodiversity.
The Commission estimates that invasive species cost Europe €12 billion every year, as they can damage infrastructure, agriculture and also human health.
Balancing ecology and the economy
According to the online media Altinget, the issue is of such importance for Denmark that the finance ministry has been briefed on the consequences for the state budget, should the mink be banned.
"Right now there is a lot of guessing about what will end up on the EU's invasive species list and which consequences this will have for Denmark," Environment Minister Ida Auken told Altinget.
"Let me be clear that we are only just now starting the negotiations following the Commission's proposal. And still no-one knows which species will be on the list. So there's still a long way to go – and Denmark will be very active in these negotiations," Auken said.
Alien species have no natural predators and they can quickly spread and overtake an area's native environment. In cooperation with member states, the Commission wants to draw up a list of the most invasive groups to keep them away from the European continent.
Economic interests will be taken into consideration before experts determine which animals will be banned, the Commission stressed. According to Altinget, the mink has been highlighted as one of the examples where the interests of the industry might prevail over nature.
Luc Bas from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) European Union Representative Office commented:
"The prioritisation (listing) of species to be tackled by the upcoming EU legislation needs to be defined by scientific evidence. 235 experts have recently signed a call asking policymakers to be guided by scientific advice on invasive alien species. We think it is important to analyse damage of invasives to biodiversity but also to the economy. As a result of the new legislation, some economic sectors may need to be compensated or under strict conditions may be granted an exception, such as for the mink fur industry. However, the release (intentional and unintentional) of these captive species needs to be addressed and responsibilities clarified. "
The European Union and its member states all agree on the need to improve the stewardship of land and seas, including efforts to restore natural habitats such as wetlands and forests, which harbour natural life.
But there is disagreement on how aggressive those efforts should be and how much money should be spent in times of austerity.
The European Commission's Biodiversity Strategy 2020 calls for restoration of 15% of habitats, while some MEPs say the proposals are too weak and want a 30% target.
National environmental representatives have called for stronger habitat protections and for reducing the EU’s environmental footprint, but enforcement of existing laws or targets is often weak.
- European Commission: Natura 2000 Network
- Council conclusions: EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 (21 June 2011)
- Commission: Biodiversity
- European Environmental Agency: Report - The impacts of invasive alien species in Europe
- United Nations Environment Programme: Biodiversity
- IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature): Call for a science-based approach concerning the EU Regulation on Invasive Alien Species
NGOs and Think Tanks
- Agricultural and Rural Convention 2020: Website
- European Environmental Bureau (EEB): EU Ministers lumber forward on biodiversity, climate talks ongoing (21 June 2011)
- Altinget: Denmark fears for its mink industry [In Danish]