A parliamentary committee on Thursday asked the Danish prime minister about his government’s illegal decision last year to slaughter all farmed mink nationwide over fears of a new variant of the coronavirus, which it said was the “right” thing to do, AFP reports.

Formerly the world’s largest exporter of mink fur, the Scandinavian country controversially decided last November to kill all of its 15 to 17 million mink after studies suggested that the variant found in some animals could compromise the effectiveness of future vaccines.

A large crowd of protesters gathered outside the Copenhagen courthouse, booing the Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, on arrival.

“We unfortunately had to make the decision a year ago to shoot all the sights, and it was the right decision,” Frederiksen told reporters before rushing into the courtroom where the hearing was being held. .

The commission is seeking to determine whether the prime minister was aware that the order had no legal basis – a fact which emerged shortly after the slaughter began and led the country’s agriculture minister to resign.

“It was in my opinion crucial that we act quickly,” the Prime Minister said at the hearing, adding that she knew the decision would be devastating for the industry.

At the time, the government only had the power to ask mink farmers in the seven municipalities affected by the mutation to slaughter their mink.

A deal was reached retroactively, making the government’s decision legal, and the nationwide slaughter went as planned.

Before slaughter, Denmark was also the world’s second largest producer of mink fur after China.

In November last year, the Danish government announced that the country would slaughter its 15 to 17 million mink, a move that was later found to be illegal. Photograph: Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP / Getty Images

At the start of her hearing, Frederiksen stressed that government decisions are made by the ministers concerned, even though she has officially announced the slaughter.

A specially appointed parliamentary committee has been examining the government’s decision and all related documents since April, and interviewing witnesses to dissect the decision-making process.

Ultimately, the commission will decide whether or not to recommend Frederiksen’s impeachment before a special tribunal that adjudicates the actions of cabinet members during their tenure.

Frederiksen argued that she did not know her decision was illegal and insisted it was “based on a very serious risk assessment”.

In October, controversy around the decision was rekindled when it was revealed that then-Frederiksen’s text messages had disappeared.

His office said they were automatically deleted after 30 days for security reasons.

But many politicians have greeted this claim with skepticism. Only two of 51 ministers and former ministers polled by public broadcaster DR said they installed the same setting on their phones during their tenure.

The commission called in the police and intelligence services, but they were unable to retrieve the text messages.

The media and lawmakers have repeatedly questioned Frederiksen on the matter.

A few weeks after the slaughter in the region of North Jutland, in the north-west of Denmark, where many mink farms were concentrated, the mutation was declared “very probably extinct”.

The Danish parliament then passed an emergency law banning the breeding of mammals in 2021, which was then extended until 2022, a blow to the industry.

The mink is the only animal confirmed to date capable of both contracting Covid-19 and recontaminating humans.

Related: Mink Elevates Continued Covid Risk to Humans, Wildlife, EU Experts Warn