Food gulps up more funding

Bookmark and Share

The Norwegian government, which already grants huge subsidies to local agriculture, has also been spending millions to promote home-grown food. Now it plans to fund a competition and award prizes to boost its quality. Given the level of taxpayers’ money earmarked for the program, some may argue the food producers have won already.

State officials were treated to a lavish breakfast table in Trøndelag last year, when Agriculture Minister Lars Peder Brekk launched another food promotion that's costing taxpayers more than NOK 60 million. PHOTO: Landbruksdepartementet

Agriculture Minister Lars Peder Brekk announced the prize program this week, after first attending Norway’s elaborate stand at a huge food fair in Germany and then traveling on to Lyon in France, famed for its culinary expertise.

“This is going to be like an Oscar award for food,” chef Harald Osa who heads Norsk Matkultur, an organization that promotes better Norwegian food, told newspaper Aftenposten. Food promoters stand to be among those benefiting from the program, aimed at especially nurturing high-end niche products.

Brekk backs spending millions so that cooks from five regions in Norway can compete each year over who can make the best dishes. Planned television coverage of the awards ceremony should make viewers drool, wrote Aftenposten.

“We have had too little focus on food and too much on farm organization and quotas,” Brekk said in a press release about the competition.

Outspoken celebrity chef Eyvind Hellstrøm (right) introduced Norway's agriculture minister to the wonders of free-range French chickens in Lyon. PHOTO: Landbruksdepartementet

Eyvind Hellstrøm, an outspoken celebrity chef and president of Bocuse d’Or in Norway, has harshly criticized some Norwegian agricultural products over the years. He guided Brekk around in Lyon during the annual Bocuse d’Or competition, to sample what he considers to be the best of European cooking.

Visits to free-range chicken farms i Bresse followed. Hellstrøm had complained about what he called Norwegian “gulag chickens,” and Brekk was impressed by the two-kilo birds that wandered over grassy fields before being served on his plate, surrounded by delectable French trappings.

“Strong niche production, high quality, a focus on animal welfare and proud producers who are concerned with maintaining quality,” was Brekk’s conclusion about what he saw. This is also relevant for Norway, he claimed. The government will be publishing a major policy document on food before the summer, covering all aspects of food production and the outlook for the next 10 years.

“In order to preserve Norwegian food traditions we need solid domestic food production,” claims Brekk, who hails from the farmer-friendly Center Party. “Our food security must not depend on being able to buy everything on the international market. In addition, we have to find a good balance between large-scale production and quality.”

Brekk has also launched a development program for specialty producers within Norwegian agriculture, and set aside NOK 62 million to fund it in 2011. He wants to support development and production of new products “that folks will be willing to pay more for,” by providing financial aid to firms and networks, development of production competence and marketing efforts.

Critics of meat promotion
Not all are happy with the scale of financial support offered to food producers at taxpayer expense. An environmental activist group, Framtiden i våre hender (The future in our hands) is criticizing the NOK 69 million also spent every year on promoting Norwegian meat. It thinks a state-funded meat information and marketing agency called Opplysningskontoret for kjøtt should be shut down.

The group complains that only NOK 9 million is spent on promotion of fruit and vegetables, which are generally viewed as healthier food products than meat.

“We believe that it shouldn’t be the state’s job to get Norwegians to eat more environmentally destructive meat,” Arild Hermstad, leader of the group, told news bureau NTB. “Meat (production) gets enormously more money for marketing than fruit and vegetables, which leads to people buying more meat, and the imbalance continues.”

Views and News staff