If the longest journey begins with a single step, we owe Denmark a debt of gratitude for setting its size 10s on the path and beckoning us to follow, by publishing the world’s first national action plan for a plant-based food system.
First agreed two years ago and sealed with an investment of 1 billion kroner (£116 million), the plan sets out how the government intends to boost plant-based food production and transition away from meat and animal products. As well promoting homegrown and planet-friendly alternatives, it will plough money into research and development and increase plant-based exports. The Danes’ political leaders, already MFMers and vegan-friendly, hope the 40-page document will see them become a beacon for the rest of the planet.
As part of what US president Franklin D Roosevelt might have dubbed a “Green-Food New Deal”, chefs will be trained to work magic with alternative proteins, beans will bump burgers down the menu in schools and pupils will be taught the benefits of growing and eating more fruit and vegetables. (Not that young Danes appear to need any lessons: this month Copenhagen’s Children and Youth Committee decided to remove red meat, one of the most harmful meats for people and planet, from the menu in the city’s schools and daycare centres.)
A Fund for Plant-Based Food, focused on research into new organic crops and what they can bring to the table, has been so overwhelmed with applications from startups, universities and other organisations that it could have spent its £7 million budget three times over.
“Denmark is the first country to develop an action plan specifically for plant-based foods,” said Rune-Christoffer Dragsdahl, secretary-general of the Vegetarian Society of Denmark. “Therefore, the plan itself is internationally groundbreaking.”
“It is also positive that there is focus on so many aspects – ranging from research, product development, and export of Danish products to the training of kitchen professionals. 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 entire value chain.”
Denmark’s decision to rewire the way the country eats, doubtless to the dismay of the meat industry, was triggered by a 2021 ruling by the country’s Council on Climate Change that it was on course to miss its 2030 goal of cutting emissions by 70 per cent compared with 1990 levels. Jacob Jensen, the minister for food, agriculture and fisheries, called it a “necessary transition” and wrote in the foreword to the action plan: “Plant-based foods are the future.”
Environmental benefits aside, Denmark can see the business case for vying for the plant-based pound: Europe is the world’s biggest market for plant-based food and its action plan estimates being a global leader could net it £1 billion and create 27,000 jobs.