Editorial | It all boils down to one thing

August 15th, 2013

This article is more than 10 years old.

Consumers say they are influenced by principle when they food shop, but more than anything else they just want good, cheap food

Questions about food shopping may begin with discussions about ethics or quality, but for a country with some of the highest food prices in the EU and the lowest per capita spending on food, the decision about what consumers put in their trolley each week invariably boils down to one thing: price.

That’s what makes all the ado this summer about the welfare of animals used in the food industry a little hard to swallow. 

Case in point, our recent article about caged eggs. Animal welfare advocates told us that this type of egg remained common in Denmark because of a lack of public awareness about the hens’ appalling living conditions. 

Bullshit. Pardon our French, but the primary reason why consumers reach first for buræg, and not free-range or organic eggs, is because the least animal-friendly product is cheapest. 

According to our spot check, the price of a single caged egg is 1.3 kroner. At 3.30 kroner each, organic eggs cost nearly three times as much. Other food products have similar price span. It takes a pretty committed (or well-heeled) animal rights activist to shell out the extra money for the ethically-correct choice for each and every item. 

Shortly after we ran our story, Kvickly announced it would stop selling caged eggs. While we’d like to see more grocery chains follow its lead, the decision to do so would be one made not on financial grounds (caged eggs outsell other types of eggs), but to bolster its-image as a responsible retailer. 

The same holds true in the continuing debate over halal meat. Ethics experts in Denmark have defended the practice, and unknown to most consumers the majority of meats they buy here are halal. 

Some have called for halal meat to be labelled. That’s something we’re all for. Halal meat costs less to produce, and we’d like to see whether consumers’ distaste for it disappears once they are presented with a product that is the same in all aspects except price.

Again, cheap is king. Or as Henrik Bunkenborg, of food and agriculture lobby Landbrug & Fødevarer, put it back in 2011: “We need to think in terms of finances. It’s all about kroner and øre and where we can sell our products.” 

That “where” includes the Middle East. For while Danish lawmakers discuss whether it’s right to accommodate Muslim dietary considerations at the dinner table, the country’s merchants have long since realised that there’s money to be made in catering to Muslims in the marketplace. 

Whether it is horsemeat masquerading as beef, pink slime or now ‘beef’ made from bovine stem cells, there are lot of things about the meat industry we should be talking about. Halal slaughtering isn’t one of them.


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