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HEALTH

Free fruit turns Danish kids away from unhealthy snacks

15 million apples, pears and bananas were given out at Danish schools last year as part of a school fruit programme which has run for the last decade.

Free fruit turns Danish kids away from unhealthy snacks
File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The programme has been successful in getting school children to eat healthier snacks, according to an assessment by consultancy firm Oxford Research carried out on behalf of the Danish Agricultural Agency.

Minister for Food Mogens Jensen praised the programme after seeing the outcome of the analysis.

“It’s important that our children and young people have the right diet, healthy eating habits and follow the food pyramid, and this scheme contributes to that,” Jensen said.

“There are a lot of unhealthy temptations, so it’s important that healthy food habits become part of our day as early as possible. This programme has over the last ten years resulted in children eating more fresh fruit,” he added.

The Oxford Research assessment noted that children from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds benefit particularly from the school fruit scheme, eating fruit and veg more regularly than they otherwise would.

“This scheme is a way for us to ensure that income does not decide whether you can choose the healthy alternative now and in future,” Jensen said.

A total of 324 schools across Denmark participated in the scheme, which is funded by the EU, during the last school year.

Although that is only a small percentage of all Danish schools, any school can apply to take part.

“I’s like a lot more schools to be involved. I’d encourage more schools to apply for the subsidy,” Jensen said.

Applications for the next school year can be submitted until March 2020.

READ ALSO: Denmark presents plan to get kids eating healthier food

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FOOD & DRINK

How does food qualify as organic in Denmark?

Denmark was the first country in the world to get its own organic law and the “Ø-label”, stating that food is organic, can be seen on around 13 percent of products across Denmark's supermarkets. But what does it mean about the food you're eating?

How does food qualify as organic in Denmark?

If you go to a Danish supermarket, you will notice many food products marked with a red “Ø” label. This organic label, which stands for økologisk (“organic”), was introduced in Denmark in 1990 and is “a very special stamp from Denmark,” according to Per Jensen, Organic consultant at agricultural advice company VKST.

It means the food you are eating has passed the Danish government’s regulations for organic produce; a law that was introduced in 1987 as the first organic law in the world and a law that has just raised the bar on how organic food is produced in Denmark.

The standards Danish organic farmers have to meet is higher than the regulations set out by the EU, which were first introduced in 1991.

“Organic essentially means no fertiliser,” Per Jensen told The Local. 

“However, you can use manure from farms that use fertiliser. The organic Danish farmers’ unions have pushed to change the rules so that from the 1st August 2022, no more than 45kg of nitrogen per hectare of manure can be used from farms using fertiliser that isn’t organic,” Jensen said.

Nitrogen is essential for plant growth but its supply can be limited, which is why it’s often applied as a fertiliser. There can however be some negative impacts on using fertiliser, such as polluting groundwater, which is why organic farmers don’t use it. But in Denmark, the country’s organic law goes further than many countries to eliminate traces of nitrogen. 

“On an organic farm in Denmark you need 20 percent of clover-like plants sewn in your field every year. These plants, like peas and horse beans connect nitrogen from the air, into the soil, so you don’t need to rely so much on manure. Some farmer don’t use manure at all and rely on clover plants,” Jensen explained to The Local.

There’s also a law that states 50 percent of crops in organic farms must make the soil rich in carbon, as well as a time limit of 8 hours on how long live animals can be transported.

This organic law is set and checked by the Danish government each year, on top of the regular EU checks. It results in food being given the prestigious Ø label and red crown and when exported, or bought in Danish supermarkets, consumers are “getting something special – there are no pesticides or herbicides in these products and they have a high level of credibility,” Jensen reiterated.

How much food is organic in Denmark?

In 2021, 11 percent of total farmland in Denmark was organic, which is roughly 312, 000 hectares. 

Organic food made up roughly 13 percent of the total retail food market in 2020 and proportionally, the organic market in Denmark is the biggest in the world, according to the Danish Agriculture and Food Council.

It states that the most popular organic products are eggs, (30 percent of total egg production is organic) oatmeal, wheat flour, carrots and bananas. One in three litres of milk bought by Danish consumers is organic and half of milk in Danish schools is organic.

In 2015, the Danish government announced “the world’s most ambitious” organic plan. It included doubling the amount of land dedicated to organic farming by 2020 compared to 2007 and serving more organic food in the nation’s public institutions.

According to a 2021 report by the University of Copenhagen, 22 percent of the food served in Denmark’s canteens, kindergartens and other public sector workplaces was organic. That compares to 39 percent in Sweden and just 1 percent in Norway.

In 2016 the City of Copenhagen announced that  88 percent of all food served in the city’s public institutions was organic, which was believed to be the highest percentage of organic food anywhere in the world.

However Jensen, organic consultant at agricultural advice company VKST, told The Local the ambitions to expand organic farmland had not yet been fulfilled. 

“Due to the war in Ukraine, the cost of manure is very expensive. So don’t expect a big increase in organic food at the moment,” Jensen said.

“Some farmers will stay as organic farmers no matter what. But others will change depending on the price. Sometimes being organic will be better money for the farmer but other times it won’t so, they’ll change to non-organic to grow for the best economical result,” he added.

Is organic food healthier?

A group of Danish researchers and academics presented a 136-page report to the Norwegian Food Directorate in 2021, which could not agree on whether organic food was healthier to eat than non-organic food.

“When it comes to nutrients it’s exactly the same as non-organic,” Karin Østergaard senior lecturer of Food Science and Nutrition at VIA University College, Aarhus, told The Local.

“The pesticides disintegrate into the soil quickly and you can’t use pesticides at all just before harvesting so you won’t find them when you eat the food,”  Østergaard said. She added that the limits set on pesticide use, plus all examinations on the food and health research means you shouldn’t be worried.

“The level of traceable pesticides on food in Denmark is very low compared to the EU in general and certainly outside the EU. So if you buy Danish products that are non-organic, you are still getting a very good product,” she added.

There was alarm in 2019 when traces of pesticides were found in drinking water in Denmark. Østergaard explained that these were aggressive pesticides that were banned many years ago that took a long time to reach the ground water. “The pesticides used today are not such a problem”, she said.

Despite the debate, organic food remains popular in Denmark.

“I think it’s because people today are beginning to think more of what they’re eating and they want a better product and that’s why they go to organic because they know it’s not been sprayed with fertiliser and the product is not a lot more expensive than non organic,” Jensen said.

But he predicts a drop in the number of people buying it.

“Right now there are other things that influence what people are buying, such as the rising cost of living so then you just have to buy the cheapest product.” 
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