Denmark: The major pork producer trying to wean itself off eating meat

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These collaborations, in turn, helped the politicians see there was space for cross-party support. Ida Auken, a Danish MP and former environment minister, says she would now advise other nations to build similar alliances: “Get the farmers on board, get the unions on board, but also be clear in your vision: say this is where we’re going and do it incrementally.”

Pointing out the potential for job creation is also key, Auken adds. Denmark is already seeing job losses in the dairy and slaughter sectors, in part due to rising costs of production in the wake of the war in Ukraine. The new plant-based industry can offer hope of change, Auken says. “If we get 2% of that plant-based market, it could mean 20,000 to 40,000 jobs, which is a lot in Denmark.”

Carrying the spirit of cooperation into the delivery of the plan is also essential. And helping with this is the additional creation of a Plant-Based Food Grant. This 1.25bn kroner (£155m/$195m) fund will support the growth of plant-based production, with half the amount earmarked for projects related to organic foods.

Dominant among the grant’s first round of funding awards, announced this week, are initiatives directed at retraining Denmark’s professional kitchens and food services. Krebs’ own proposal, involving a “vegan travel team” to train chefs around the country, was among those that received funding. A centralised “knowledge bank” for chefs and a new vegetarian degree for Denmark’s hospitality school also got support.

Funding has also been ear-marked for projects that increase the volume and quality of supply: from research into new fermentation techniques, to the production of plant-based cheese and yoghurts. Yet support for plant-based products and cooking can only go so far if consumer demand falls short. So the second-largest chunk of funding has gone to projects aimed at encouraging individuals and supporting retailers. This tranche includes a National Vegetable Week, an educative “Foodjam” at Denmark’s 2024 Roskilde Festival and a “Make it Easy” project involving supermarket chains.

Outside the country meanwhile, a collaboration between the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, the Danish embassy in London and the UK Soil Association will attempt to build-up the British market for Danish exports.

By placing such a large focus on demand-stimulation, rather than punitive measures, Danish politicians are hoping their agricultural sector will see plant-based food as an opportunity to build new skills and jobs, not a threat to their livelihoods. “It’s such an important climate solution. It’s as big as wind-turbines,” says Auken of the dietary shift. “We need it not to be a huge fight with farmers, like in the Netherlands, or between vegans and carnivores. But about getting a more interesting food culture.”

What can other nations learn?

Other nations are already starting to take note. In Portugal, the Vegetarian Association (AVP) is proposing a National Plan for Plant-based Proteins. And although a Denmark-style fund for legume-production was voted down by its parliament earlier this year, it did receive backing from parties on both the left and right, says AVP’s Joana Olivereira.

In Germany, the government has allocated €38m (£32m/$41.5m) in the 2024 budget for the promotion of plant-based, precision-fermented and cell-cultivated proteins, alongside the transformation of agriculture. Jens Tuider from ProVeg International, the biggest vegetarian organisation worldwide, described the move as a “paradigm shift”, though notes the one-time amount still falls short of Denmark’s larger funding promise and more “comprehensive” plan.

“We’re expecting the FAO’s roadmap to achieving 1.5C to set out recommendations for high-consuming nations to limit their meat intake, and – having already a leading role in the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance it is perhaps no surprise that Denmark is once again setting the example,” says Helen Harwatt, a research fellow at the think tank Chatham House.

The plant-based shift is also being driven by competition in global trade. This December, for example, South Korea will announce its own plan to promote its plant-based food industry and has already described the market as a “new growth engine”.

A Danish-style national plan won’t be the right fit for all, however. Ciniro Costa Jr, a scientist from the Alliance of Biodiversity International and CIAT, points out that many low and middle-income countries, such as Brazil, rely on livestock products and cannot quickly make changes. Instead, other emissions-cutting interventions could help here, he suggests, such as improving pastures and introducing rotational grazing.

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