Meat consumption dips across Europe, with ‘trend setter’ Denmark at ‘back end of the pack’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

|Denmark, a country known for pushing the envelope in culinary innovation, is reducing meat intake - but at a slower rate than other EU countries. GettyImages/ClarkandCompany
|Denmark, a country known for pushing the envelope in culinary innovation, is reducing meat intake - but at a slower rate than other EU countries. GettyImages/ClarkandCompany

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Close to half of Europeans report they eat less meat today than this time last year, with Denmark ‘finishing last’ in the meat reduction ranking. “I expected a bit more from Denmark,” says Professor Armando Perez-Cueto from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food Science.

A major survey​ conducted under EU-funded project Smart Protein, which aims to develop a new generation of sustainable and nutritious protein sources, has revealed a growing number of Europeans are reducing their meat intake.

The survey was conducted by the University of Copenhagen in collaboration with ProVeg International, Ghent University, and Innova Market Insights.

Close to 46% of Europeans say they are eating less meat compared to this time last year.

However, in Denmark – a frontrunner in sustainable development known for pushing the envelope in culinary innovation – consumers are amongst the slowest to reduce meat intake, with just 37% following this trend.

This means that 63% of Danish consumers have not reduced their meat consumption, putting Denmark in equal last position out of the 10 European countries surveyed.

'I expected more from Denmark'

Professor Armando Perez-Cueto – one of the Smart Protein collaborators – said he was encouraged by the survey’s overall findings.

“Our meat consumption can have a major impact with regards to the climate crisis we’re up against. Therefore, it is encouraging to see that a fairly large proportion of the European population is eating less meat than in the past.”

At the same time, the professor noted Denmark’s position amongst the other 9 countries surveyed. “It is noteworthy that Denmark, which is usually progressist and a trend setter, is at the back of the pack. I expected more from Denmark.”

The survey revealed the Nordic nation also ranked last in terms of intention to reduce meat intake. While nearly 40% of Europeans combined intend on reducing their meat consumption in the months ahead, the figure for Danes is 33%.

In other words, 67% are going to eat as much as before, or more meat than before.

Why is Denmark ‘lagging’?

Prof Perez-Cueto attributes Denmark’s last place to a number of potential reasons relating to nutrition, food culture, and cost.

“Firstly, we need to puncture widespread myths. For example, half of Danes believe that we cannot do without meat nutritionally, even if scientific evidence points to the contrary.

“Secondly, there is a food culture which says that plant-based foods lack sufficient taste and that a complete mealtime ought to include meat. This view is held by 45% of Danes. While only 100 years have passed since Danes lived primarily on a plant-based diet, the narrative of what’s right to eat has grown strongly.”

Other contributing factors could be hindering uptake of plant-based alternatives, the professor continued.

More than one-third of Danish consumers find plant-based foods too expensive, don’t know how to prepare them, say information about them is lacking, or don’t find them visually appealing.

For Prof Perez-Cueto, these factors ‘can and should be’ addressed. “It should be a task for all of society – public authorities, researchers, organisations, etc. – to nudge people towards more climate-friendly eating habits.

“Because a green transition of society cannot happen without a green transition of our food consumption.” 

Additional findings of Smart Protein's recent survey can be found here​.

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