Viking sperm-sales are plummeting right now

The other banking crisis.

Travelling on the London Underground in recent years you have most likely seen pictures of cute, blonde babies along with the slogan “Congratulations, it’s a Viking!” plastered across the ad. The advertisement is for the Danish sperm bank Cryos, the biggest of its kind in the world.

Cryos, along with other Danish sperm banks, has been marketing Danish sperm heavily across the UK, and demand for the popular Viking “donations”, has been on the rise. The amount of UK women buying Danish sperm has grown by about 40 per cent every year since 2005, according to one Danish insemination clinic and Cryos estimates that about 10 per cent of their sperm is exported to UK clients and clinics.

A shortage of sperm elsewhere, combined with differing rules about donor anonymity from country to country, means that Denmark, which can offer both anonymous and non-anonymous sperm and can deliver it directly to individuals across the EU rather than simply to licensed clinics, is an increasingly popular destination for women seeking to become pregnant.

Since the UK made it illegal to donate sperm anonymously in 2005, the shortage of British sperm has been daunting, forcing more and more British women to look towards other countries. Thanks to its liberal laws on sperm donation, Denmark has enjoyed the brunt of this demand.

But recent events might put a stop to the Viking baby invasion. Danish laws on donation have recently been tightened after a donor was found to have passed on a rare genetic condition to at least five of the 43 babies he has fathered. Now, potential donors are interviewed, their health evaluated and their history of disease is checked – making it harder to just walk in and donate.

Far more critical is the high-profile court case, where a UK mother bought DIY sperm from Cryos and proceeded to impregnate her 14-year old adoptive daughter with the sperm. After a miscarriage, the daughter gave birth to a donor-child at the age of 16. Now the EU and Danish politicians are looking to reform the Danish laws on sperm-donation and sales, making it harder for potential mothers and fathers to acquire the popular Viking-sperm. The question is now, whether the sperm banks have a responsibility to ensure that sperm sold to individuals isn’t misused. When potential parents buy sperm through an insemination clinic, they are screened and questioned on their parenting skills – individuals buying DIY sperm are not put through the same process.

But what will this do the UK demand for Viking sperm? Marketing in London has been put on hold temporarily as the court case runs its course and sperm-sales are encountering their first slump in over seven years. In the meantime, it is clear that Danish politicians are moving towards more regulation of the Danish sperm industry. With a potential sperm-draught ahead, it might be worth considering a liberalisation of UK laws. If not for reproductive reasons, then consider the economic potential. Sperm-tourism has been on a steady rise in Denmark for the past ten years, resulting in considerable revenue growth for sperm banks and insemination clinics. Cryos, for instance, doubled their revenue within their first five years. In a time of austerity, isn’t any market with high demand worth delving into?

Can't be good for them. Photograph: Getty Images

Sandra Kilhof Nielsen is a reporter for Retail Banker International, Cards International & Electronic Payments International.


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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.