Denmark Introduces World’s First National Action Plan to Promote Plant-Based Foods
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Denmark has published an action plan detailing its goal to transition towards a plant-based food system, in what is a first by a national government. It’s part of the 2021-announced climate agricultural plan to cut food emissions and will involve plans to promote plant-based foods in school meals, via chef training, and by increased exports.
In 2021, Denmark introduced an unprecedented climate agreement arguing that vegan food must be a “central element in the green transition”. The plan saw the government earmark one billion Danish kroner (€168M) to advance the sector, with 675 million kroner (€90M) going to the creation of a new Fund for Plant-Based Foods, and the rest as bonuses to farmers who grew plant-based protein crops for human consumption.
The country’s new national action plan is part of this 2021 agreement, establishing how the government wants to boost its plant-based industry. The administration hopes to serve as an inspiration for the rest of the world when it comes to vegan food consumption and production. It also comes three years after it passed a climate law that outlining emissions and net-zero targets.
The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries of Denmark’s plan involved training chefs in both public and private kitchens on the preparation of vegan meals, and a higher focus on plant-based diets in schools and the education system. It also outlines initiatives to expand the exports of locally produced vegan food through embassies, and invest more in research and development for this sector.
Denmark’s plant-based sector ‘severely underfunded’
That last point is key, as it’s in stark contrast to a report earlier this year that found that 97% of all research and innovation spending in the EU goes towards animal agriculture to increase production. This is despite the EU supporting two major research initiatives to help develop plant-based products last year, with a combined investment of €23.2M. In fact, between 2014-20, EU cattle farmers received at least 50% of their income through direct subsidies from the EU – which outnumbered the subsidies earned by the plant-based industry by 1,200 times.
This puts a spotlight on Denmark’s plan to incentivise farmers to grow vegan protein, as well as the introduction of its Fund for Plant-Based Foods, the first round of which has received 101 applications from startups, universities and others, requesting more than thrice the allocated €7.78M budget. The 2021 agreement followed the establishment of the country’s dietary guidelines a few months earlier, which called for a reduction in meat and dairy consumption, and higher intake of plant-based proteins.
While Denmark’s decarbonisation plan was the largest investment into plant-based R&D by any country, the Vegetarian Society of Denmark argues that the sector is still “severely underfunded”. Experts from several of the country’s universities have pointed out that funding must increase by at least sixfold, reaching 600 kroner (€80M) annually.
“Both we and many other dedicated forces in the plant-based sector are determined to make the mission succeed, but it also requires further investments throughout the value chain,” says Rune-Christoffer Dragsdahl, secretary general of the Vegetarian Society of Denmark. “And here, the money does not match the ambitions.”
This aligns with a recent report that found by the organisation – in collaboration with Greenpeace, Animal Protection Denmark and Green Transition Denmark – which found that Danish banks and financial sector lack the objectives and knowledge to invest in food and agricultural sustainability.
He adds that the national action plan lacks concrete objectives across the board: “There are a lot of great visions in the action plan, but it is unclear which goals will be achieved and how they will be achieved. If Denmark’s constructive path is to be a credible alternative to, for example, the Dutch approach – which led to large demonstrations in the country – the visions need concrete figures.”
Plant-based policies by countries around the world
The Netherlands – whose nitrogen emission plan sparked backlash from livestock farmers – has faced criticism from environmentalists, who allege that its tax rules encourage fossil fuel use. But it has proposed a six-year master plan to increase plant protein production and consumption, and approved cultivated meat and seafood tastings after investing €60M in cellular agriculture last year – plus, it set aside €25B to buy out livestock farms and limit the number of animals reared for human food.
Similarly, Germany’s National Nutrition Strategy involves a focus on plant-based diets, particularly in government-run establishments like hospitals and schools. Its Minister of Food and Agriculture, Cem Özdemir, says German meat consumption has declined, with only a fifth eating it daily. He adds that policymakers intend to build a comprehensive nutrition strategy to promote food system changes via early education and accessibility initiatives. The potential is there, given Germany is Europe’s largest plant-based market.
Last month, Switzerland’s government launched a new climate strategy for agriculture to make its food system more sustainable and boost food security. This includes a recommendation to reduce meat consumption and adopt more plant-based food in people’s diets – 21% of the population already consumes vegan alternatives to dairy once a week.
Elsewhere, Canada’s Food Guide recently made changes to encourage the consumption of plant-based foods more often than animal-derived protein. And in the US, 1,400 mayors ratified a resolution in August to promote a shift to plant-based diets to address chronic diseases, climate change and national healthcare costs.
In Taiwan, meanwhile, the 2023 Climate Change Response Act promotes a plant-froward, low-carbon diet to fight the climate crisis and reach net zero by 2050. In China, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs included a focus on future food tech like cultivated meat for the first time as part of its Five-Year Agricultural Plan in January 2022.
Additionally, 2023 is the UAE’s Year of Sustainability, part of which is a push to promote plant-based eating in the country. It’s also the host of this year’s COP28 climate summit, billed as the first food-focused edition, featuring a predominantly vegan catering menu – 44% of its residents are open to substituting meat and dairy with vegan alternatives.
The EU’s plant-based policy
Last month, five EU animal advocacy organisations, including the Vegetarian Society of Denmark, published a report suggesting 11 measures to unlock the transition towards a plant-based food system in the region. They called for a redirecting of public funding, a rethink of the EU’s protein strategy and mandatory carbon labelling.
The EU was further urged to lower VAT on plant-based foods – something ministers in Germany are also campaigning for in terms of alt-dairy – introduce a health tax on red and processed meat, and implement a meat tax with a higher VAT on animal-based foods, a measure that is currently being discussed by the Danish government.
The same week the report was published, the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee voted to implement a strategy to increase the production of plant proteins in the EU, emphasising that these would increase the “circularity in the food and feed value chains” and benefit the climate. It came after the EU Parliament adopted a resolution to promote plant-based eating and reduce the overconsumption of meat in February 2022.
“Immediate action is necessary to mitigate the ongoing impact of meat production on climate change and biodiversity loss,” said Joanna Oliveira, project director at the Portuguese Vegetarian Association and coordinator of the coalition’s report. “Implementing these policies and initiatives, with consideration for gradual adoption in specific cases, will be crucial to achieving a more just, sustainable and resilient food system, benefitting both current and future generations.”
“Denmark is the first country to develop an action plan specifically for plant-based foods. Therefore, the plan itself is internationally groundbreaking,” added Dragsdahl. “We hope that politicians will set concrete targets in the coming period, and we are happy to offer our expertise in this area to ensure that this succeeds.”