COVID-19: a spoiler in one of the world´s most sustainable food production systems?

Written by Søren Madsen, March 16, 2021

Denmark is on a journey towards a complete climate neutral food production in 2050. Part of the solution is fairly known knowledge and expected results from already planned research. But the challenge of a complete climate neutral food production is massive and needs completely new research, food production systems and great innovations. Is the country still on track or does the COVID-19 pandemy change priorities?

Denmark is often mentioned as a global role model for sustainable food production and innovation. Danish farmers have learned to make the most out of the relatively small area of agricultural land available to them, and together with highly efficient food producers, Denmark produce more than three times as much food as the Danish population can consume. And this is with some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions in Europe.

The Danish farmers have reduced the emission of green house gasses by 31% since 19901) and in the same period the production has increased by 21%. And according to World Resources Institute2) the Danish pork production has the lowest greenhouse gas emission pr. kg in the World, and for milk Denmark is third in the World. For Denmark this is of great importance since these two productions accounts for half of the total value of the agricultural production and one third of the export from the Danish food cluster.

A new climate partnership for the Danish agricultural and food sector have recently made 24 concrete recommendations to the Danish government and parliament. Recommendations that, if all being implemented, will further reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses by about 60% by 2030. The estimated investment to reach this, very ambitious, milestone is more than 3 billion euros, and it needs a strong cross-disciplinary collaboration as well as new regulations.

Collaborative culture

Why is Denmark a global frontrunner in sustainable food production? We do of course have very skilled and innovative farmers and food technicians, but the collaborative culture you find in Denmark is an important part of the explanation. The roots of the collaborative culture lie in the Danish cooperative movement.

Starting in the late 19th century, the first farm cooperatives demonstrated the power of pooling resources and knowhow to mutual benefit. Trust, openness and a willingness to share are still fundamental values in the Danish food cluster towards a climate neutral food production in 2050. Today the largest companies like Arla Foods, Danish Crown and DLG (feed) are still cooperatives owned by the farmers. When the supplier and the owner is one and the same, it makes value chain integration more natural.

COVID-19 to change priorities?

So, aren´t there any potential spoilers in this almost too-good-to-be-true blog from the land of H. C. Andersen and his famous fairytales? Of course there are. The COVID-19 pandemic has been (and is), as everywhere, very expensive for Denmark. During the pandemic we have not heard about, and we have not seen, (m)any initiatives to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses from the Danish government. The debate has disappeared. It seems COVID-19 has taken all focus – all resources.

And when it´s time to look at the large bill post COVID-19, it will be very interesting to see, if there still is the willingness and the budget – the 3 billion euros – to do the needed basic research in new agricultural and food production systems.


  1. DCE Denmarks National Inventory Submission, 2020
  2. World Resources Institute, “Comparing the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of dairy and pork systems across countries using land-use carbon opportunity costs”, 202
  • Countries

  • Topics

  • Roles