By Agnieszka Barteczko
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland has begun testing minks for the coronavirus despite objections by lobby groups and some farm owners, who fear they could lead to a nationwide cull.
Earlier this month three industry associations warned a decision to test minks could pave the way for Poland to follow Denmark's move to cull its entire mink population after a mutated form of the virus was found.
"We are afraid that the agriculture ministry wants to follow the 'Danish path'," Daniel Chmielewski from the Polish Association of Fur Farmers said in an e-mailed statement.
The groups' representatives and some farm owners also signalled that they may refuse to allow the veterinary services to test their animals for the coronavirus, which spread among mink in Denmark and some of their keepers despite earlier culls.
"Each of the breeders can agree or not to the test and it is their right. There must be some protection because anyone from the outside can also infect the minks," said Tadeusz Jakubowski from Polish Association of Fur Animals Breeders and Producers.
But the veterinary services said the tests, ordered by the agriculture ministry earlier in November, had started and the first samples would likely be sent to the National Veterinary Research Institute on Tuesday.
"We have taken 200 samples at 5 farms. There is full cooperation with the veterinary services," the head of a local veterinary inspectorate in the Masovian region in central Poland said on Tuesday.
The Chief Veterinary Inspectorate in Poland will conduct random tests at 18 farms in four administrative regions. The results are expected at the end of November.
Poland is one of the world's top producers of mink fur, with some 350 mink farms containing around 6 million animals or roughly half of that in Denmark. It has not tested mink for coronavirus up to date.
Animal rights became a political issue in September when the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) proposed draft legislation which would ban breeding fur animals. The draft has been shelved amid a serious political crisis, but was seen as a climax of tensions within the ruling coalition.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; additional reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw and Nikolaj Skydsgaard in Copenhagen; editing by Philippa Fletcher)