Farmers failed to meet Stoltenberg

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Norwegian farmers, still furious over what they consider to be a poor state subsidy offer from the government, picked the wrong date in their efforts on Monday to confront and further ridicule Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. He’s been out traveling since last week, but the farmers warned they’d try again.

An estimated 2,000 farmers drove tractors into downtown Oslo and marched through the streets in yet another demonstration of their dissatisfaction with the taxpayer funding that helps feed them. They wound through the multi-ethnic Grønland area and up to the Parliament, where they were met by the leader of the parliament’s committee on business issues, Terje Aasland.

Complaints registered
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Aasland would rather have seen the farmers negotiate with the state instead of refusing to discuss the state’s offer of NOK 900 million (equivalent to a 4.5 percent pay raise) and opting for demonstrations, but he listened to their complaints. So did another politician known as a champion of the farmers, Member of Parliament (MP) Per Olaf Lundteigen, a farmer himself. He represents the farmer-friendly Center Party, which is part of the government coalition that Stoltenberg from the Labour Party heads and which succeeded in dramatically sweetening the farmers’ funding initially proposed by Labour. The farmers, however, were bitterly disappointed nonetheless.

From the Parliament, the farmers headed for the temporary offices at Akershus of the prime minister, who was bombed out of his permanent office by the terrorist attacks of July 22. Aftenposten reported how the farmers held a series of battle cries and speeches before they were met by a state secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Svein Fjellheim. Stoltenberg himself was in Chicago, along with Norway’s foreign minister and defense minister, to take part in the NATO summit.

The farmers apparently hadn’t realized their demonstration would collide with the NATO summit and seemed to accept it as a valid reason for Stoltenberg’s absence. They also were able to once again complain to their “own” government minister, Lars Peder Brekk of the Center Party, who serves as agriculture minister and initially infuriated his own constituents by saying he thought the state’s offer was historically high and a good one. He later toned down his support for the offer, and told the farmers that the government had the same goals as they did, just different ideas for how to achieve them.

Blaming the grocery stores next
While some farmers vowed to make another attempt to confront Stoltenberg, they may otherwise take a break from the last week of demonstrations. Now they’re supporting another group’s demonstrations against grocery store retailers, who they accuse of having too much power in Norway. The Norwegian Food and Allied Workers Union (NNN), which represents around 30,000 workers in the food and beverage industry, planned what they called a “political strike” on Tuesday against the large grocery store chains.

Ole Robert Reitan, managing director of the REMA 1000 grocery store chain that was founded by his father, claims he respects the protests and even agrees that the farmers receive too little of the prices Norwegian consumers pay for their food products. He thinks the farmers, though, need to spend more time evaluating how the food chain is organized and how their farming can be more economically viable.

‘Should target their bureaucratic cooperatives instead’
Reitan especially targeted the samvirkene (cooperatives), which include Tine for dairy products, Gilde for meat and Nortura for poultry.

“Most of the money disappears in their own bureaucratic cooperatives and through generally complicated agricultural policies,” Reitan told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). He’s not the first to suggest a critical examination of how the cooperatives function, claiming that he thinks overall power within the food chain is balanced among the coops, the big wholesalers and beverage makers and the grocery stores.

The grocery stores have come under fire for consistently high profits over the years, but Reitan indicated they’re not generating their profits from food products and claimed they have “the lowest margins” in Europe.

“The grocery store chains don’t earn anything on milk, and we lose money on meat,” Reitan told DN. “Even so, we have the highest milk and meat prices in Europe. It’s clear there’s something wrong with the system.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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