Denmark’s Organic Action Plan

Denmark’s Organic Action Plan


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Developed by involving a broad spectrum of stakeholders, Denmark’s Organic Action Plan is a holistic strategy that increases, on the one hand, the overall demand for organic products and, on the other hand, stimulates research and product innovation. Supported by substantial dedicated funding, the Plan produced very clear positive outcomes: Today Denmark has the highest market share of organic products in the world, with almost 80 percent of Danes purchasing organic food. Also thanks to high demand, the Plan has amply met its original target of doubling organic farm land compared to a 2007 baseline. Furthermore, the Plan motivated municipalities through a national goal to achieve 60 per cent organic in all public kitchens; thereby, for instance, the city of Copenhagen met the goal of 90 per cent organic food in 2015, without an increase in meal prices. For its notable achievements and its respect for the Future Just Lawmaking Principles and Elements of Agroecology, Denmark’s Organic Action Plan (2011-2020) was recognized with the Future Policy Silver Award 2018, awarded by the World Future Council in partnership with the FAO and IFOAM – Organics International.

© Photo Credit: Shutterstock (Curioso)

At a Glance
  • Since the 80s Denmark has been a forerunner in governmental support to sustainable agriculture. The country is also a worldwide pioneer when it comes to designing policies according to inclusive and participatory approaches.
  • The Danish Organic Action Plan (OAP, 2011-2020, updated in 2015) was developed through the involvement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders in charge of defining the action points of the plan through several cycles of interviews, questionnaires and workshops.
  • As a result, the Danish OAP has a strong focus on demand creation, research and product innovation. By increasing the overall demand for organic agricultural products in Denmark and abroad, the plan stimulates farmers’ motivation to convert from conventional to organic food production. The robust research focus of the plan strengthens Danish innovation capacity to create new sustainable solutions and products.
  • Furthermore, the plan is supported by substantial dedicated funding and created great impact: Denmark today has globally the highest market share of organic products and the highest annual per capita spending on organic food.
Policy Reference

Organic Action Plan for Denmark: Working together for more organics, 2011-2020 (updated in 2015), full text available (in English) here.

Connected Policies

The deep integration of organic policy in broader policy framework for nature, environment, clean water, rural development and green growth is a unique feature of Danish organic policy and the current action plan. In Denmark, the influence of EU policies is particularly strong. Key pieces of legislation and strategic policy documents, in a national and regional context as well as at EU level, backed the rationale of the Danish OAP. Denmark took the opportunity to anchor its OAP in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and its Rural Development Programmes framework, something that has only been realized in a very few cases across Europe.

Selection as a Future-Just Policy

Denmark is a worldwide pioneer in supporting truly sustainable farming and in designing policies according to inclusive and participative approaches. The plan ‘Working together for more organics’ is rooted in the idea that public support earmarked to the development of organic agriculture is a way to prioritize “public goods”, which are not otherwise produced by conventional agriculture and are not sufficiently remunerated by the current market paradigm.

Developed through intense exchange with stakeholders, the Danish Organic Action Plan has a strong focus on demand creation, research and product innovation, and is supported by substantial funding. The policy supports diversified agroecological farming and represents a holistic strategy to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods. With this Organic Action Plan (OAP), the Danish Government aimed to further develop and increase organic production, and to strengthen Denmark’s role as an innovating country. Three remarkable features distinguish this OAP from others implemented in Europe. First, its participatory approach that has involved a wide range of stakeholders in elaborating the measures of the plan. Secondly, the OAP is supported by substantial dedicated funding. Finally, the plan produced very clear positive outcomes: Nowadays Denmark has the highest market share of organic products in the world. For its inclusive and holistic approach, and remarkable achievements, Denmark’s policy won the Future Policy Silver Award 2018.

Future-Just Policy Scorecard

Our “Best Policies” are those that meet the Future Just Lawmaking Principles and recognise the interconnected challenges we face today. The goal of principled policy work is to ensure that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are taken into account. It also helps to increase policy coherence between different sectors.

   Sustainable use of natural resources

  • The policy fosters the adoption of sustainable farming and best practices.

   Equity and poverty eradication

  • Additional financial support was ensured to vulnerable value chains, i.e. fruit and berries.
  • The policy supports organic farmers, who are not remunerated otherwise for the public goods they provide.
  • Healthier food for children and hospitalized people is provided through the organic public procurement programme.

   Precautionary approach

  • Monitoring and evaluation of the policy is implemented.
  • Consumer awareness campaigns are supported with EUR 3.3 million annually.

   Public participation, access to information and justice

  • The policy frameworks results from a high level of collaboration among all stakeholders.
  • Data and resources on the state of implementation of the action plans are openly available and in general the governments ensure efforts to raise awareness and creating communication tools to ease information.

    Good governance and human security

  • The policy set up agricultural extension services and Farmers Training Centres.
  • Communities and Youth Groups develop their own by-laws.

   Integration and interrelationship

  • The policy is well integrated at national and European level.
  • The policy helps farmers access financial aid and resources.

   Common but differentiated responsibilities

  • At the foundation of the policy there was a cross-governmental ambition of collaborating in writing the policy, such as the ministries for environment, agriculture and food, education, research and business affairs.

The initial driver of policy support for organic farming was the recognition that organic production methods offered solutions to environmental problems linked to agriculture and that focusing on supporting organic farming was a strategy to deliver multiple public goods simultaneously. The Danish Government also recognized that, in order for organic agriculture to provide solutions to current challenges, it needed targeted investments in market development, new knowledge in agroecological methods, research, and more collaboration within the organic sector. An another unique approach of the Danish is that, while the potential environmental benefits of applying organic farming methods were increasingly acknowledged, policymakers recognized that the main driving force behind state intervention should be to pay considerable attention to demand creation and not only promoting farm conversion.

The history of governmental support to organic farming in Denmark starts in 1987, when the Danish Parliament adopted the Organic Farming Act, which laid down the basic structure of Danish organic farming policy, which still remains today. Permanent subsidies for organic farming were introduced in 1994. Early OAPs were established from 1995 to 1999.

The current OAP ‘Working together for more organics’ covers the period 2011 to 2020. It was revised and expanded in 2015, following a change of Government. The plan aims at doubling the land area of organic production by 2020 (against a baseline of 2007), and earmarks specific budgets over the period 2015 to 2018 to a set of different action-points. This plan was initiated by the Ministry for Agriculture and developed with the assistance of an external consultant.

Rooted in the Danish political ambition to design policies that enable the private and public sector to become more innovative and competitive, the Minister of Agriculture put in place clear procedures for involving relevant stakeholders in order to ensure that the plan could meet the needs of the sector. Involvement was secured at the beginning of the plan development process based on a year-long consultation process and collaboration with the organic sector. Preparation was based on a comprehensive process involving more than 200 stakeholders, who participated in three large workshops. The Organic Food Council, a government-led forum of relevant interest groups, was involved in prioritizing the initiatives recommended, as a result of three workshops and 35 interviews held with key actors in the organic sector.


“More resilient organic production” is one of the OAP’s main goals, as the situation analysis conducted before drafting the plan led to the conclusion that there was a need to emphasize action in certain areas. This included more innovation within the sector, more organic products in public kitchens, a levelling out of price differences between conventional and organic products in the market place, better cooperation between ministries, sufficient access to land and nutrients, a greater attention to organic farming interests in general agricultural policy making, more research and development, and an increase in the level of knowledge of organic production.

The OAP pursues the following specific objectives: Increasing exports (7 action points); Promoting organic and increasing demand (8 action points); Collaborative efforts among government institutions (23 action points); Investment and expertise support (8 action points); Increase number of organic producers (7 action points); and  Support for organic inputs and for special sub-sector development (14 action points).

Methods of Implementation

Whereas in the past the focus of policy support for organic farming was often production-oriented, the current Danish OAP considers market development (including support for certain marketing channels), promotion and awareness, as well as public procurement, as priorities. The OAP is a mix of push and pull actions. Push effects are meant to increase production, while pull measures aim at increasing the demand for organic products.

If we look at the push measures supported in the OAP 2011–2020, a key action was to stimulate the demand for organic products by consumers and in private and public kitchens, such as schools and hospitals. Municipalities were motivated through a national goal of achieving 60 per cent organic in all public kitchens and by earmarked funds to support the conversion process, primarily through the education of kitchen leaders and workers, and changes in supply chains and menus. For these activities, 6.4 million EUR were earmarked in the 2015-2018 period. For instance, the city of Copenhagen succeeded in developing one of the most ambitious public procurement programmes in Europe, which met the goal of 90 per cent organic food in 2015, without an increase in meal prices.

In order to increase and improve production, the conversion of farmers was supported with substantial capacity building as well as investments in research and innovation to move towards best practices and improve sustainability. The State invested EUR 3.8 million to support the conversion to organic practices for the period 2015-2018. A remarkable measure was the implementation of ‘conversion checks’: a full day face-to-face meeting between a farmer and an extension officer, aimed at explaining what the conversion to organic of their own farm would concretely entail. Recognizing that organic agriculture has higher production costs and often faces greater challenges than conventional farming, the Government maintained its support for land area payments, earmarking EUR 143 million for conversion and maintenance up to 2018, through the financial instruments of EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Tailor-made advisory services for organic farmers are provided by Organic Denmark and the Danish Agricultural Advisory Service run by the farmer’s union, who receives project funding from the Government to strengthen organic advice in its 30 agricultural centres across the country.

In terms of innovation, Denmark earmarked EUR 10.8 million in the years 2015 and 2016 for market development and the development of innovative organic products. Organic Denmark receives project financing for coordinating joint organic marketing projects with retail chains and food service companies. An organic academy trains key employees in organic market knowledge and export activities. In addition, the Danish Ministry for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs invested EUR 1.3 million in mobile product development teams. Composed of a group of specialists, these teams meet with farmers and small companies to create value-added processed products and develop related marketing competencies. During a five-year period, this enabled the development of over 400 new organic products. The development of a strong research agenda in Denmark is characterized by a collaborative dialogue between the organic sector and government institutions, as well as governmental commitment to supporting organic research. In 2015 and 2016, a total of EUR 10 million was invested in research activity through the Innovation Fund in Denmark, which granted support for the International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS). ICROFS is a “research centre without walls”, coordinating organic research across all research institutes in Denmark, and runs a dedicated programme for organic farming research and knowledge exchange with support from the Danish Government and in collaboration with the Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming Systems.

The Danish OAP (2011-2020) has so far invested around EUR 192 million over the period from 2015 to 2018. Regarding future governmental commitment, in April 2018, the Danish Government secured a growth plan for the organic sector by earmarking EUR 147 million for 2018-2019. Moreover, Denmark has probably the best system for organic data collection in place, especially for organic retail sales and international trade data. Since 2003, this data has been collected annually by Statistics Denmark.


Today 97 per cent of all Danish citizens know the national organic logo, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Denmark has highest organic market share in the world (9.7 per cent), with almost 80 percent of Danes purchasing organic food. It also has globally the highest annual per capita spending on organic food. Thanks to the plan, the turnover of organic foods in the food sector has developed positively, reaching approximately EUR 272 million in 2016. About 70 per cent of the turnover came from retail sales in Denmark, whilst about 2 per cent of agricultural produce exported was organic.

The area cultivated by organic farms in 2017 was approximately 245,159 ha, over 9 per cent of Denmark’s total cultivated area, meaning that the OAP has amply met its original target of doubling the surface of organic farmed land compared to the 2007 baseline (+ 68 per cent in 2017). In 2017 there were already almost 3,500 organic farms, approximately 9.5 per cent of total national agricultural holdings. Hence, the OAP has contributed, through market development, conversion checks and conversion support to a 40 per cent increase in organic area over the last two years.

In terms of health, one principal effect of increased organic public food procurement is a decrease in consumers’ intake of pesticide residues, and a decrease in the presence of pesticides in drinking water and the environment, as well as farmer’s exposure to pesticides. Additionally, nutritional improvements are achieved: kitchens using organic produce develop menus more in line with national dietary guidelines for the general population, by being based on more fruits and vegetables, and less meat. The Government estimates that more than 800,000 people benefit from healthy, organic meals served every day in public canteens.

Potential as a Transferable Model

Over the last decade, the development of Organic Action Plans (OAPs) has gained momentum as a mechanism for achieving a more integrated approach to organic policy-making at the European level. However, the effectiveness and continuity of OAPs can vary significantly from country to country. Denmark is a leading example and a source of inspiration worldwide, both in the scope and innovative approach of its organic policy. Beyond its holistic set of measures, a highly transferable aspect is definitely also the intensive policy development process that especially saw the involvement of all stakeholders, including NGOs. Denmark is exemplary by strengthening the principles of organic farming and further incorporating them into everyday farming practices. Policymakers can draw significant conclusions on the importance of long-lasting public-private partnership, participatory design and implementation.

Additional Resources

Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark (in English)

Organic Denmark, The Organic Way – The Danish Model, 2019 (in English, German, French and Chinese)

Danish Ministry of Environment and Food, Growth Plan for Danish Organic Agriculture, 2018 (in Danish)

IFOAM – Organics International, Guidelines for Public Support to Organic Agriculture, 2017

IFOAM EU (Authors: Schmid O., Padel S., Lampkin N. & Meredith S.), Organic Action Plans: A Guide for Stakeholders, 2015

Jespersen, L. M., Baggesen, D. L., Fog, E., Halsnæs, K. & Halberg, N. Contribution of Organic Farming to Public Goods in Denmark, in: Organic Agriculture, September 2017, Volume 7 (3)

International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS, Authors: H. Niels; H. Alrøe; M. Meldgaard and J. Michelsen), Development, Growth, and Integrity in the Danish Organic Sector, a White Paper, 2008

Sorensen, N. N., Lassen, A. D., Loje, H., & Tetens, I., The Danish Organic Action Plan 2020: Assessment method and baseline status of organic procurement in public kitchens, in: Sustainability and Public Health Nutrition, September 2015, Volume 18 (13)

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