Around 100,000 mink are to be culled on Irish fur farms in the coming weeks amid concerns over a mutated coronavirus strain.
The Chief Medical Officer has written to the Department of Agriculture voicing concern that the mutation could affect the rollout of any COVID-19 vaccine.
It comes after officials in Denmark discovered a mutated form of COVID-19 on hundreds of mink farms.
Officials in the Scandinavian country also found that the new strain can jump from mink back to humans.
The discovery led to plans for a cull of the 17 million mink on farms in Denmark.
There are three mink farms in Ireland based in Laois, Donegal and Kerry.
Plans to phase them out were included in the Programme for Government; however, Dr Tony Holohan’s letter has now expedited the process.
The farmers will be permitted to use the fur from the cull but no further breeding will now be allowed.
In a statement, the Department of Agriculture said Mink farmers have operated in “full compliance with all legislative and animal welfare requirements” and cooperated fully with efforts to address COVID-19 risks.
It said testing of the mink herd has uncovered no positive cases of COVID-19.
“The Department of Health has indicated that the continued farming of mink represents an ongoing risk of additional mink-adapted SARS-CoV-2 variants emerging,” it said.
“Therefore, it has recommended that farmed mink in Ireland should be culled to minimise or eliminate this risk.”
The ISPCA said its joint campaign with Veterinary Ireland for an end to fur farming resulted in the Programme for Government commitment to phase it out.
It said it welcomed the “precautionary measure” which it said would bring an end to cruel fur farming earlier than anticipated, meaning more mink will suffer in the future.
A study in the Journal Nature this week found that, as things stand, the mink mutations would not jeopardise any vaccine.
It found “little evidence that they allow the virus to spread more easily among people, make it more deadly or will jeopardize therapeutics and vaccines.”
It found that the Danish cull is still necessary as there are three times more mink than people in the country and the population was a “massive viral source that can easily infect people.”
There are also concerns uncontrolled spread in mink could lead to future mutations that could threaten the effectiveness of vaccines.