Farmers face far more inspections

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Filth and animal neglect found at a series of farms in Rogaland, southwestern Norway, were branded as “completely unacceptable” by Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale after a meeting with farmers’ representatives. They admitted to “attitude problems” within the industry and now face far more frequent inspections nationwide.

This was one of the photos from Mattilsynet that NRK published recently, showing an injured pig that can’t stand up. PHOTO: Mattilsynet

Lars Petter Bartnes, leader of the powerful national farmers’ lobby Norges Bondelag, is normally at odds with state officials in the farmers’ ongoing demands for import protection and subsidy. On Tuesday, however, Bartnes thanked the agriculture minister for what was called a “constructive” and “necessary” meeting.

“It’s always possible that things can occur while raising animals that are of a more critical character,” Bartnes told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), “What we’ve seen here is that routines for caring for animals have not been followed up.”

He was referring to the shocking results of surprise inspections by agricultural and food safety officials from state agency Mattilsynet. The inspections revealed excessively filthy conditions along with injured, undernourished and even dead pigs at farms in Rogaland.  Many other farmers have also been cited in recent years for neglecting their livestock, mostly cattle and pigs.

Norwegian farmers are often out demonstrating, like here in front of the Parliament last spring, for more state support and promoting the advantages of locally produced food. This sign claims that “Norway needs the farmer,” while farm inspections in Rogaland have revealed some terrible conditions for Norwegian pigs. PHOTO: Bondelaget

“There’s no doubt that this has to do with bad attitudes (among farmers),” Geir Heggheim, chairman of the pig farmers’ cooperative Norsvin, told NRK. “We will now mount a massive effort to change that.”

He added that consumers who are encouraged (and even forced through import restrictions) to buy Norwegian meat “must be confident that animal welfare is high” and that Norwegian-produced pork is of high quality.

‘Very sorry’
“We are very sorry that this situation has arisen,” Heggheim said. “The photos we’ve seen in recent months (taken by state inspectors of the conditions at pig farms) are totally unacceptable.”

That was a word that was frequently used after the meeting between Minister Dale and meat industry. “This must be cleaned up,” said Dale of  the Progress Party. “We had a need for this meeting. Now we’ve had a good discussion and concluded that the industry will gather to mount a plan to improve animal welfare.”

It will include better documentation and more frequent visits from veterinarians, a reporting system to follow up animal illness and injuries and a campaign to improve attitudes towards animal welfare among farmers. They are often held up as the champions of pure, locally grown food that’s clearly labeled and promoted as being superior to imported food. That’s used to justify the market regulation and import restrictions that keep Norwegian food prices high in comparison to other countries and allow farmers to earn money on small operations scattered around the country despite economies of scale.

‘Violation of animal welfare’
Now the poor attitudes that have come to light are nothing short of embarrassing for the otherwise highly organized farming industry. “The shocking examples we have seen on many farms are a violation of animal welfare laws,” Dale said. “Farmers who engage in such bad animal welfare have no place in Norwegian agriculture.”

Farmers will also become subject to more surprise inspections and 3,500 more visits by veterinarians every year. “We’re tightening up,” Dale said. “The attention on animal welfare in the pork industry has clearly not been strong enough.”

Bartnes of the farmers’ organization could only agree, not long before negotiations begin this spring on next year’s state support for farmers. “We will collectively and forcefully go in for changes in attitudes and culture, and to get the producers (farmers) to follow the routines that are in place,” Bartnes promised.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund