Denmark commits $75+ million to becoming world’s first ‘100% organic’ nation

SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly e-newsletter to receive more stories like this. Organic brunch at a Copenhagen eatery: in 2016, according to The World of Organic Agriculture 2017 report, 8.4% of all food sold in the small but pioneering Scandinavian nation was organic.

Already, Denmark is one of the world’s leaders in organic produce and products.

Last year, according to FiBL and IFOAM in The World of Organic Agriculture 2017, 8.4 percent of all food purchased in the small Scandinavian nation was organic – which makes the Danes, per capita, the world’s most voracious organic-food consumers. 

This is no happy accident: rather, says the Danish government, it is “the result of cooperation between farsighted farmers, organisations and politicians that has turned Denmark into the world’s leading country for organics”.

In 2015, the then-Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries of Denmark, keen to satisfy not just Danish citizens’, but the world’s growing appetite for organic produce, allocated €53 million (A$75.6m) over five years to help turn the country’s agricultural and food processing industries into a global powerhouse of sustainably farmed, certifiably organic produce.

In its 67-point Organic Action Plan for Denmark, the Ministry stated that going forward, all government land in Denmark would be cultivated according to organic and biodynamic methods.

The Organic Action Plan also commits the Danish government to supporting private food producers and processors make the shift to organic methods via a flexible mix of education and extension, R&D, promotions, subsidies and incentives.

If the Danes’ initiative succeeds, theirs may be the first nation on Earth in which 100 percent of public land is farmed using organic, sustainable methods, beating out even Bhutan (which pledged to go all-organic back in 2011 but measures success in terms of happiness, which makes its progress on this front tricky to assess).

What does the Organic Action Plan entail?

The Organic Action Plan for Denmark is essentially a two-pronged effort:

  • encouraging agri-producers using ‘traditional’ farming methods to convert to organic ones; and
  • stimulating greater demand for organic products, domestically and further afield.

The government’s stated goal is to double the amount of Danish agricultural land cultivated using organic methods by 2020, compared to a baseline set at 2007.

“We need to engage all relevant actors in Denmark to achieve this ambitious goal,” the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries (now the Ministry of Food and Environment) stated.

“We need to speed up the transition from conventional to organic production on publicly owned land, and ... continue our efforts to support public kitchens to go organic.”

Denmark’s national agriculture ministry, cities and regions have joined forces on the initiative, with all government institutions given the green light to “lead by example”.The all-organic ingredients used to make dinner at Meyers Madhus, owned by famed Danish chef Claus Meyers, founder of NOMA.

Doubling Denmark’s organic farmland acreage

According to Denmark's Organic Action Plan, the nation will support those working and investing in the organic production sector through producer and consumer education and outreach, promotions, subsidies and incentives designed to help agri-producers and food processors adopt cleaner, greener methods, such as:

  • using eco-friendly, non-toxic alternatives to pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers;
  • taking steps to reduce any harmful runoff and nitrogen (greenhouse gas) emissions resulting from crop and/or livestock production;
  • working to increase the amount of recycled-organics (RO) waste from households and service industries available to organic producers wanting to use it as soil conditioner, plant growth and health enhancer, and/or pest and disease deterrent.

The hope is that this hefty injection of government funds, tools and advisors will encourage Danes to develop more natural, sustainable farming methods, equipment and technologies, thus promoting continued growth in the areas of organic and sustainable production – one of the key issues of 21st-century agriculture.

Danish farm, complete with free-range pigs and chickens: The goal of Denmark’s Organic Action Plan is to double the amount of Danish agricultural land cultivated using organic methods by 2020, compared to a baseline set at 2007.
Danish farm, complete with free-range pigs and chickens: The goal of Denmark’s Organic Action Plan is to double the amount of Danish agricultural land cultivated using organic methods by 2020, compared to a baseline set at 2007.
Jan Ingemansen, Flickr CC

Ensuring ongoing national demand for organics

A key initiative in the government’s ‘100-percent organic’ target is ensuring that at least 60 percent of all food served to Danes through public institutions is organic, with schools and kindergartens, hospitals and government canteens working collaboratively to meet the new requirements.

As Denmark’s public institutions nationally serve an estimated 800,000-odd meals a day, a lot of organic food will be needed, day in, day out.

This ensures increased and ongoing domestic demand for organic produce, which should translate into healthy returns to the country’s organic producers.

Already, it seems, the Action Plan is producing measurable results: since its launch, domestic sales of organic produce have grown marginally from eight to 8.4 percent of total food sales.

Growing export markets for organics

The Danish government is also keen to expand the country’s export markets for organics. “We [will] invest in new export drivers and information to increase the sales of Danish organics nationally and globally,” the Ministry’s Organics Action Plan states.

And there’s no better time to do it. Not only is Denmark’s domestic market for organic, sustainable produce expanding; consumer demand for ‘cleaner, greener’ food, particularly certified-organic food, is booming globally.

Consumption of organic products and a desire for healthier, more sustainably grown foods is on the rise across most Western nations and. increasingly, among Asia’s thriving middle classes.

Though comparatively small in scale, Denmark’s organics/biodynamics sector has well established, reputable production systems, brands and trade relationships, and is thus well placed to take advantage of this worldwide trend.

The new plan pledges increased government support for exports, improving access for Danish organic foods and beverages to lucrative markets in China, and promoting them in the US, the world’s largest organic market and net importer (with annual sales of more than A$61 billion).

The Danes were some of the world's first adopters of organic food: Roskilde Festival-goers feast on all-natural produce way back in 1999.
The Danes were some of the world's first adopters of organic food: Roskilde Festival-goers feast on all-natural produce way back in 1999.
Hunter Desportes, Flickr CC

Is Denmark’s all-organic goal feasible?

Idealistic as it sounds, the Danish government’s lofty 2020 goals may be attainable.

Though Denmark is a small nation, its people have a big appetite for organic products.

Already, the Danes lead the world in organic domestic food sales, partly because the country’s national organic brand has been promoting the health and environmental benefits of organic, sustainable farming and food-processing methods for more than a quarter of a century.

And others are buying Denmark's organic produce, too – so much so that the country’s exports of organic foods and beverages have grown by more than 200 percent since 2007.

Member of the EC in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development to Nürnberg, Messe Dacian Cioloş (left) and USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan visit Denmark's food pavilion at the 2012 BioFach World Organic Fair in Nuremberg, Germany.
Member of the EC in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development to Nürnberg, Messe Dacian Cioloş (left) and USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan visit Denmark's food pavilion at the 2012 BioFach World Organic Fair in Nuremberg, Germany.
European Commission (EC), via Flickr CC

These government incentives, and the innovations it hopes will follow, should provide Denmark’s already green-leaning farm sector with even more reasons to convert.

If worldwide demand for organics continues, as it seems set to do, Danish organic farmers’ and food processors’ bank balances will likely get healthier, too.

Government and primary industry bodies in Australia might want to take a leaf out of the Danes’ clean, green playbook.

Further information

Download the Organic Action Plan for Denmark here. 

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