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In an effort to limit migrant influence, a Danish city wants its residents to eat pork

A worker hand packages of skinless wieners. (Ty Wright/Bloomberg)
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LONDON — In Denmark, a country with more pigs than humans, pork has become the latest element of a debate that has been declared a culture war.

Earlier this week, the city council of Randers made it mandatory for public institutions, including cafeterias in kindergartens and daycare centers, to have pork dishes on their menus. The council members said that their decision was an effort to preserve Danish identity and culture -- including pork meals which are consumed by most Danes.

Pork is often on the menu at these kinds of cafeterias, which is why critics are calling the decision a farce intended to fuel anti-Muslim and anti-foreigner tensions. A few efforts to ban it have provoked debates in the past, including an incident in 2013 when then-Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt criticized day cares that had stopped serving meals that included pork. But according to Agence France-Presse, only 30 out of more than 1,700 day cares were affected.

Pork — which is usually not consumed by observant Jews and Muslims — is central to the Danish food industry. On its website, the Danish Agriculture and Food Council states that the consumption and export of pork are crucial to Denmark's economy. There are about 5,000 pig farms in the country, with several million animals. "Exports of pig meat account for almost half of all agricultural exports," the council wrote.

The decision is likely to please anti-Islamic lobby groups. Although the council stressed that it did not want to force Muslims or Jews to eat food that contradicts with their religious beliefs, some considered the decision a message to refugees and other migrants that Denmark was unwilling to give up parts of its culture to accommodate others.

On Facebook, anti-Islam politician Martin Henriksen welcomed the city council's decision. "It should be needless to say ... that it is unacceptable to ban Danish food culture, including dishes with pork," he wrote. "What's next?! The Danish People’s Party works nationally and locally for Danish culture ... and hence, we are also opposed to Islamic rules ... which dictate what Danish children should eat.”

The British Independent newspaper quoted Manu Sareen, a former integration minister, as criticizing the council's decision as an effort "to impose a forced ideology … in this case on children."

Denmark has become one of Europe's most restrictive countries in terms of dealing with the influx of refugees. Last week, the Danish government secured a parliamentary majority for an immigration bill that would also allow police officers to seize cash and valuables from refugees. The proposal has provoked outrage internationally. Switzerland passed a similar law years ago.

The U.N. refugee agency warned that Denmark's bill "could fuel fear, xenophobia and similar restrictions that would reduce — rather than expand — the asylum space globally and put refugees in need at life-threatening risks." Among other measures, the law increases requirements for refugees to stay in the country for an extended time.

Even before the bill was proposed, few refugees picked Denmark for their final destination. Out of more than 1 million refugees who arrived in the 28 members states of the European Union last year, only 13,000 applied for asylum in Denmark.

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