EU blasts care of farm animals

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Starving and dirty animals, overfilled holding pens and sick calves are all mentioned in a new report from an EU regulatory agency charged with monitoring Norway’s role in its trade agreement with EU countries. Agricultural authorities were criticized for deficient control over conditions in Norwegian barns.

Norway has had its share of what the local media calls “animal tragedies” at local farms. Neighbours or authorities find neglected herds of sheep, cattle or pigs, for example, and the farmer in charge is often found to be suffering from financial or psychological problems.

“I ask my sheep for forgiveness every day,” farmer Karsten Bergset told newspaper Aftenposten after he neglected his own flocks while faced with cancer in his family, unpaid bills and other personal problems.

The EU’s regulatory agency, he said, “is absolutely correct in saying that Mattilsynet (the state food safety agency in charge of monitoring conditions on Norwegian farms) often doesn’t have time to address these issues.”

Bergset claimed that animal neglect is high on the agenda of the farmers’ own organizations. “I meet many myself who have a lot of problems,” he said. Most cases of animal neglect are often rooted in problems such as divorce, illness, financial trouble and tough competition. Some farmers simply stop going into the barn and tending to their livestock.

Bergset, from Rendalen, said he never had a visit from Mattilsynet inspectors after taking over his father’s farm in 2003.

EU inspectors visited Norwegian barns and veterinarians in September, though, and they weren’t impressed. They claim Norway has broken several EU rules covering care of livestock. In some cases sick animals didn’t receive care. Pigs, hens and calves were found living in overcrowded barns. At one farm, pens were so full of newborn piglets that some had started biting off the tails of others.

Mattilsynet officials said they’re taking the EU report seriously and “will follow up.” They have until November 27 to answer the criticism and report how they will follow up. The EU report has also been sent to Agriculture Minister Lars Peder Brekk of the Center Party, which champions rural interests.