Reindeer glut spurs crisis up north

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Norwegians aren’t buying enough reindeer meat. Herds which would normally be slaughtered, are thus being left to graze on the already threatened Finnmark plateau, threatening economic crisis for the Sami reindeer herders as well as an increasingly serious environmental situation.

Too many reindeer competing for too little grass on the tundra is creating a crisis in northern Norway. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

“When a shopper has to decide between buying reindeer meat costing NOK 290 (USD 50) per kilo and pork chops at NOK  29 per kilo, the choice is simple for most people,” butcher Anton Triumf told newspaper Aftenposten. He runs MT Slakt, the biggest reindeer processing facility in Kautokeino, northern Norway.

“Reindeer meat has become more expensive than any other meat,” Triumf said. “The price scares customers away.” Reindeer owners are being paid NOK 60 (USD 10) per kilo this year, but on its way to the customer there are many intermediaries who take their cut. This pushes up the regulated price despite sluggish demand.

This autumn 70,000 reindeer are ready for slaughter, but the warehouses are full and the slaughterhouses are only accepting half this number.

“Disaster is looming both for people, animals and the environment,” Nils Henrik Sara of the reindeer owners’ trade association Norske Reindriftsamers Landsforening told Aftenposten. “Reindeer owners will lose their earnings, the animals won’t have enough to eat and grazing areas are being destroyed.”

State bailout looms
The crisis may force reindeer ranchers into joining the national meat processing cooperative Nortura, in the hope that being part of one of Norway’s largest food producers will boost sales.

The total number of domesticated reindeer in Norway this winter will be about 280,000 animals, at least 100,000 more than the limit set by the authorities. The situation is worst in western Finnmark, which is Norway’s biggest reindeer-owning region. In this area hardly any reindeer have been slaughtered.

Previously the authorities have threatened mandatory culling if the Sami reindeer herders do not reduce numbers on their own. That won’t be possible if the slaughterhouses won’t accept the animals.

“We are approaching what could become the biggest crisis in the history of reindeer farming,” Nils Henrik Sara told Aftenposten.

Norway’s agriculture ministry has asked Nortura to buy 320 tons of reindeer meat at government expense. This meat will go straight into cold storage.

“For us this is a fairly small quantity, but for the reindeer industry this could make an important contribution,” says Hans Thorn Wittusen. Nortura may play a more permanent role in selling reindeer meat in future.

“They (Nortura) have the know-how and marketing infrastructure needed for reindeer meat,” Anton Triumf told Aftenposten.

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
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