Danish dairy giant to test carbon footprint of farmers

Dairy giant Arla will in future check the climate impact of over 10,000 producers, according to new targets outlined by the company’s leadership.

Danish dairy giant to test carbon footprint of farmers
File photo: Jens Nørgaard Larsen / Ritzau Scanpix

A new green testing model will be introduced from January 1st 2021, according to the plan.

“Currently, we check the quality of milk. But if, in future, we want the minimum possible climate footprint, we must also look to test the climate footprint of individual farmers,” the company’s chairperson Jan Toft Nørgaard said.

The plan will be presented by the leadership of the company, which is a cooperative, and will then be discussed by its board of representatives, Ritzau writes.

“That’s the way we wish to go, but we must go through a democratic process,” Nørgaard said.

“And we must ensure that it’s not only the (farmers) who are in the best position, closest to the goal, who are given the biggest motivation. We must have a model that ensures all are rewarded for improvement,” he added.

Agriculture is currently responsible for a total of 21 percent of Denmark’s emissions.

Cattle and pig farming are two major contributors to that output.

Although the aim of measuring the climate impact of suppliers has now been stated, it remains at the idea stage

Experts from Siges, a Danish research institute for agriculture, are to help map out paths for farmers to cut emissions, however.

“Some of the buttons farmers can press are the ways in which cattle are fed,” Nørgaard said.

“But breeding is also a key factor. Two cows do not emit the same amount of gasses. There are genetic differences,” he continued.

The Arla chair said he expected support from farmers over the plan.

“I don’t think there will be much opposition from my colleagues at farms over this. We are basically sportspeople who like to get better at what we do,” he said.

Arla has stated targets of CO2-neutral milk production by 2020 and a 30 percent reduction between 2015 and 2030.

READ ALSO: Arla wants CO2-neutral milk production by 2050

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Will Denmark see the return of mink farms in 2022?

After all mink breeders were last year forced by the government to close down their farms, discussions are beginning on whether the industry could return in 2022.

Will Denmark see the return of mink farms in 2022?
A mink at a North Jutland fur farm in August 2020. Photo: Henning Bagger/BAG/Ritzau Scanpix

All fur farm minks in Denmark were culled late last year and the practice banned until 2022 after an outbreak of Covid-19 in the animals at several farms led to concerns over mutations of the virus.

The mink industry was subsequently given a gigantic compensation package worth up to 18.8 billion kroner.

Parliament’s environment and food committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether to extend the current ban or allow the industry to return. Political negotiations were scheduled to take place following an orientation published the same day by the State Serum Institute (SSI), Denmark’s national infectious disease agency.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, SSI maintained an earlier risk assessment that mink breeding constitutes an health risk of “unknown proportions” for humans in Denmark.

READ ALSO: Danish PM Frederiksen to be questioned over Covid-19 mink culls

The assessment, made by the agency in June, remains the position held by SSI, the infectious disease agency said.

“It is the general assessment of the State Serum Institute that breeding of mink in Denmark after 2021 could constitute a health risk for humans of unknown proportions,” the June assessment stated.

Three key risk factors were identified by SSI in June:

  • Breakthrough Covid-19 infections in vaccinated mink breeders and skinners
  • The potential of mink farms to act as an “infection reservoir” where the virus can continue to survive
  • Emergence of new Covid-19 mutations in the animals and their spread to humans

The SSI assessment was solely concern with potential risk to humans, and did not have the task of considering safety measures for reopening farms.

Prior to the release of SSI’s statement on Tuesday, the interest organisation for the mink fur breeding industry, Danske Mink, criticised the appraisal made by the agency in June.

The formulation of the assessment was imprecise and “quite erroneous”, Danske Mink chairperson Louise Simonsen said.

The earlier orientation did not give an accurate representation “both with the number of animals and with the vaccination situation,” Simonsen argued.

Around 1,000 mink farms operated in Denmark at the time the industry was shut down.

Simonsen, in comments prior to Tuesday’s SSI statement, said she was uncertain how many were likely to restart their shuttered breeding grounds.

“We’ve had several messages from breeders who want to start up. But that number won’t stabilise until we know what we’re looking forward to,” she said.

The Conservative Party said through its spokesperson Per Larsen that SSI should have conducted a “risk assessment using groups of, for example, 50,000 or 100,000 minks” to see how “vaccinated mink, vaccinated staff and weekly testing could work”.

“Saying there’s a risk of unknown proportions is of no use whatsoever. It could mean nothing or many things,”” Larsen said.