Focus on Denmark

by Melissa Alexander
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Danish agricultural production today meets the demands of approximately 15 million people, three times the country’s total population. Food production dominates the industrial sector, accounting for just under a third of total industrial output. Denmark’s key agricultural products are pork and dairy products. The country is the E.U.’s fourth largest pork producer and is the largest pork exporter in the world, accounting for nearly 30% of global trade.

Danish agricultural exports, which account for 22% of its total exports, stood at U.S.$11.023 billion in 2001. Major exports, on a value basis, were pork, at U.S.$3.3 billion; or about 8% of total export earnings in all categories; cheese at U.S.$904 million; and poultry at U.S.$198 million.

The E.U. is the most important export destination for Danish agricultural products, accounting for 63% of the total. Germany, the U.K. and Italy are the largest individual markets within the E.U., with Japan also a major destination for pork exports.

Danish farmers sell their products through farmer-owned cooperatives that handle processing and sales, including exports.

About 90% of ag products are handled through cooperatives, with the remainder sold through private companies. Denmark’s major cooperatives include Danish Crown, which handles meat, mainly pork; and has a market share of 95%; and MD Foods, focusing on dairy, with a market share of 90%.

Denmark is a member of the European Union, and its programs conform to the Common Agricultural Policy. In domestic policy matters, the government changed focus in 1996 to emphasize agriculture from a consumer standpoint and established the Danish Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries.

The country’s chief agricultural goal today is to make Denmark a pioneer in food safety. This goal is the shared responsibility of governmental agencies, industry and consumers. The government’s role is to ensure that public control is efficient and visible at every single stage of production, from "stable to table."

In addition to inspection and information, Danish food policy also focuses on research and development. Continued investments are made in product development and research to enhance cost-effective foodstuffs production while providing high quality, healthy and safe food products to consumers.

Other policy goals are to ensure good working conditions within the agriculture and fisheries industries, environmental protection and the welfare of livestock.

The Danish Plant Directorate is responsible for the quality of agricultural production. It oversees seed, feedstuffs and fertilizers, plants and plant health, environmental regulation, ecology and E.U. agricultural subsidy schemes. A main part of the directorate’s duties is related to inspection of companies and farms, of which it regularly publishes results and analysis.

As with other E.U. member states, Denmark currently is grappling with the issue of genetically modified organisms. A recent poll on Danish consumer attitudes towards biotech food revealed that consumers were unwilling to accept GM food and were willing to pay up to 10% more for GM-free food.

More than 60% of the 1,184 persons interviewed in January 2003 said "no" when asked if they were willing to buy GM food, a percentage that was unchanged from a 1997 survey.

GMO use for pharmaceutical purposes was more widely accepted than GMOs in food, and about 45% said that reducing the use of herbicides and pesticides was a justification for using biotech crops.

Analysis of the poll results indicated that Danes might support some of biotechnology’s positive aspects, but the use of GMOs in food remained controversial.

In response to the GMO findings, the Danish government is financing a project that aims at communicating biotech knowledge and ethics to its population. This project, called BioTIK, is coordinated within nine ministries and has a budget of U.S.$4 million.


The Danish food sector is mature and highly concentrated, dominated by a relatively small number of processing and retail companies.

The flour milling industry is no exception, with fewer than 15 mills producing about 260,000 tonnes of flour annually. Among the major milling companies are Sweden-based Valsemollen and Cerealia.

Valsemollen operates two flour mills in Denmark, in Esbjerg and Koge, producing many flour types for the consumer, bakery and industrial markets. Valsemollen’s share of the Danish flour market totals about 30%.

Cerealia, one of the larger food groups in Scandinavia, is vertically integrated, producing and marketing a variety of grain-based foods, including flour, breakfast cereals, muesli, pasta and bread in Denmark. Cerealia is owned by the Swedish Farmers’ Supply and Crop Marketing Cooperative, which in turn is owned by about 54,000 Swedish farmers.

Denmark’s output of feed quality wheat means that Danish millers must import regularly, with wheat generally coming from Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Flour production is relatively stable, averaging about 260,000 tonnes a year, wheat equivalent.

A key issue among millers in recent years has been pest control after a total ban on methyl bromide took effect Jan. 1, 1998. Danish mills now use heightened sanitation measures, including more frequent shutdowns and chemical surface treatments.

Immediately after the ban took effect, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency launched a project to study integrated pest management strategies for flour mills. The goal of the project, conducted at three mills representative of the industry, was to increase knowledge of technically and environmentally acceptable prevention and control methods at an acceptable price level.

The project found that the costs of a successful IPM program were likely to be prohibitive given the industry’s tight margins in relation to the efficacy of IPM programs.


The Danish feed market, like most other of the country’s agricultural sectors, is dominated by a few large companies. But unlike other sectors, the feed manufacturing industry has a lower share of cooperatives; only 50% of Danish feed companies are farmer-owned, with the remainder privately owned.

Dansk Landbrugs Grovvareselskab is a major company within the animal feed sector and is a key supplier of agricultural products used for farming and breeding purposes. DLG’s share is about 30% of Denmark’s total annual feed product consumption.

In late 2002, DLG, together with seven other privately and cooperatively owned Danish grain and feedstuffs operations, purchased the Danish assets and activities in KFK, which was the largest major feed industry player and is owned by Norsk Hydro Norway. The purchase included all of KFK’s Danish grain and feedstuffs activities and associated activities, with the exception of Biomar A/S, Svenska Foder AB and KFK’s biofuel activities.

Two-thirds of the Danish grain harvest is used as feed in animal production. About half of all pigs are fed with ready-mix feed, with compound feed production at just under 3 million tonnes a year.

Denmark also relies on protein meals in feed rations. Because Danish oilseed crushing facilities are limited to 530,000 tonnes, much of Denmark’s meal needs of about 2 million tonnes must be imported, with about 1.55 million of that soybean meal mainly from Argentina.

In 1998, Denmark imposed a voluntary ban on the use of drugs in feed to boost animal growth. Overuse of such drugs were thought to be behind a rise in the number of resistant bacteria found in livestock, and high-profile scares over the transmission of resistant forms of bacteria such as salmonella had become increasingly frequent in Europe.

According to a recent World Health Organization report, the Danish ban has been effective. The use of antibiotics in animal feed dropped by 54% after the ban, while at the same time, the percentage of Danish livestock with resistant bacteria fell from as high as 80% to as little as 5%, the study found.

Cutting out antibiotics raised Danish farmers’ costs by 1%, or about U.S.$1, per pig, but the increase appeared to be offset by greater consumer confidence and the likely human health benefits, WHO said.

Key Facts

Capital: Copenhagen.

Demography: Population 5.4 million, 0.28% growth rate (2003 estimates); Danish language, with English the predominant second language; Evangelical Lutheran religion (95%).

Geography: Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic and North seas; temperate climate; low and flat to gently rolling plains.

Government: Constitutional monarchy. Chief of state is Queen Margrethe II; head of government is Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Official agricultural agencies: Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries under Minister Mariann Fisher Boel.

Economy: Denmark’s modern market economy features high-tech agriculture, up-to-date small-scale and corporate industry, extensive government welfare measures, comfortable living standards, a stable currency and high dependence on foreign trade. Denmark is a net exporter of food and energy and has a comfortable balance of payments surplus. Government objectives include streamlining the bureaucracy and further privatization of state assets. Denmark has not joined the euro regime, although the Danish Kroner is pegged to the E.U. common currency.

Agriculture accounts for 24% of gross domestic product and employs about 7% of the Danish workforce.

G.D.P. per capita: U.S.$29,000 (purchasing power parity), 1.8% growth rate, 2.3% inflation, 5.1% unemployment, (2002 estimates).

Currency: Denmark Kroner. Sept. 29, 2003 exchange rate 6.40924 DKK = 1 U.S. dollar.

Exports: U.S.$56.3 billion (f.o.b., 2002), meat and meat products, dairy products, fish.

Imports: U.S.$47.9 billion (f.o.b., 2002), machinery and equipment, raw industrial materials, grain and foodstuffs.

Major crops/agricultural products: Wheat, barley, pork, dairy.

Wheat: Production has been declining in the past five years to about 4 million tonnes in 2002, with feed the predominant use of the domestic crop. Milling wheat generally is imported and averages about 400,000 tonnes a year.

Barley: Output of this crop is on the increase, surpassing 4 million tonnes in 2002. Feed use predominates.

Transportation: Highways, 71,474 km, all paved; railroads, 3,164 km, mostly 1.435-m gauge; Copenhagen, Alborg, Esbjerg, Odense are major ports.

Internet: Country code, *.dk; 13 service providers (2000); 3.4 million users (2002).

Data (1,000 tonnes)















2002-03 marketing year projections

Source: Danmarks Statistiks