The Danish government has reversed its ban on state canteens serving meat for two days every week after a backlash from employees.
Officials had proposed to introduce two vegetarian days a week in the canteens, as well as limiting beef or lamb to once a week. However, trade union objections forced a U-turn on the policy after barely a week.
The government has now said it would be up to individual workplaces to decide whether or not to introduce meat-free days.
Denmark had been attempting to make reductions in the nation’s diet-related footprint to help meet its ambitious new climate targets. Last year it approved a new climate law to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030.
As well as the meat-free days, Denmark had been planning to introduce climate-friendly dietary guidelines in 2021 and initiatives to help reduce emissions from the farming sector.
The Danish government had not wanted to ban meat consumption, said Anne Paulin, climate spokesperson for the ruling Social Democrats, but to “set an example on greener eating habits”. Paulin said a more “pragmatic solution” of voluntary meat-free days had now been agreed. “We still believe people will eat meat in the future, but we should eat less for climate and health reasons,” she added.
Experts had said the meat-free days, even if compulsory, would be unlikely to reduce climate emissions given the size of the livestock sector in the country. Denmark produces vastly more pig meat than the country needs; 90% of all its pork production is exported, mostly to the rest of Europe.
“Changing diet will probably not reduce Denmark’s emissions greatly. Our agricultural sector supplies a global market and I do not see them producing less because they sell less in Denmark,” said Katherine Richardson, leader of the sustainability science centre at the University of Copenhagen.
Paulin said the government had “no specific policy to minimise the Danish livestock capacity”, adding that the country’s producers were very climate-efficient compared with other European countries.
Greenpeace said the government’s U-turn on meat-free days was “embarrassing” and that it was now also likely to back away from initiating the necessary transition in Danish agriculture.
“It needs to start talking about the elephant in the room, the fact that Denmark is the biggest meat producer in the world, per capita, with 28% of Danish climate emissions coming from the production of meat and dairy products,” said Helene Hagel, head of climate and environmental policy at Greenpeace Denmark.
The Danish food industry said the meat-free proposals were “not necessarily beneficial” in reducing climate emissions.
“Our major concern about mandatory meat-free days from a purely climate perspective is that Danish food products which are among the most climate efficient in the world will be substituted with products flown in from abroad. That will make absolutely no sense from a climate perspective and would render the initiative a token effort,” said Niels Peter Norring, climate director at the Danish Agriculture and Food Council.
UK Green party MP Caroline Lucas said meat-free campaigns were a great way of introducing people to plant-based dishes and raising awareness of the environmental impact of industrialised livestock rearing. “It’s not saying ‘no to meat-eating’, it’s focusing on less and better and – if done in consultation with people – has the potential to change eating habits long term.”
Sign up for the Animals farmed monthly update to get a roundup of the best farming and food stories across the world and keep up with our investigations. You can send us your stories and thoughts at [email protected]