Nutrition experts upset farm lobby

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Norway’s powerful farmers’ lobby is being accused of favouring their business interests over good nutrition, after farmer-friendly officials in the state agriculture ministry objected to new state recommendations to limit consumption of red meat and milk.

Agriculture in Norway is the ultimate sacred cow, with a powerful lobby always keen to protect the farmers' interests. They don't like a new expert report that fails to promote milk and advises against eating red meat more than twice a week. PHOTO: Views and News

A national council on nutrition has drafted new guidelines aimed at preventing sickness and nurturing good health. It recommends against eating more than two dinners of red meat per week, and it consciously omits any recommendation to drink milk.

With meat and milk among Norwegian farmers’ biggest products, the council’s advice has provoked pro-farmer political leaders in the agriculture ministry. They’re rejecting the report, suggesting the nutrition experts don’t know what they talking about.

“We don’t think the proposal to only eat a maximum of 500 grams of red meat a week is properly documented,” State Secretary Ola T Heggem of the agriculture ministry told newspaper Aftenposten. Heggem hails from the small but powerful Center Party, part of Norway’s current left-center government with farmers making up much of its constituency.

The nutrition experts, including Dr Christian Drevon, a professor at the University of Oslo’s medical school faculty, point to a connection between high consumption of red meat and colon cancer. Drevon and his colleagues recommend far more vegetables, fruit, berries and fish in the Norwegian diet, and less red meat, salt and sugar. 

Heggem won’t accept the medical and nutrition experts’ conclusions, he wants more emphasis put on “the positive aspects of eating meat and dairy products, for example proteins and calcium,” and he wants to remove a chapter dealing with the environmentally damaging aspects of meat production. 

“That shows an audacity that’s just incredible,” Drevon told Aftenposten. He noted how the government, and the Center Party in particular, otherwise try to present themselves as environmentally conscious.

Drevon claims the farming interests in Norway have far too much power already, through their large government subsidies, price regulation and the protectionist policies they have won.

Svein Flåtten of the Conservative Party seems to agree. “I think it’s amazing that the agriculture ministry contradicts a group of experts giving qualified advice,” Flåtten told Aftenposten. He calls their objections a “political play” that he intends to challenge.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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