Minister orders reindeer slaughter

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Norway’s agriculture minister wants to slaughter nearly 40,000 more reindeer in the country’s most northerly county of Finnmark as quickly as possible. He claims there’s not enough grass for the animals to graze on, and reducing the size of the herds is the best way to save the industry.

Reindeer grazing along the coast near Alta last summer. Now they're being moved inland, where winter grazing grounds will be far more sparse. PHOTO: Morten Møst

Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, who’s recently caught criticism for pushing through higher import tariffs to protect farmers, has now stirred controversy among many reindeer herders in northern Norway. Large herds mean high status for some herders who don’t want to reduce their herds after a successful summer grazing season along the coast.

“We can try to follow the government’s demand, but must also use the knowledge we have,” Isak Buljo, leader of a herding district in Finnmark, told newspaper Aftenposten. “What if we have too few animals, and it becomes a crisis winter when many reindeer die? What will we live off of then?”

Vedum said that he understands some herd owners may feel it’s unfair to be forced to slaughter more animals than they want to, but he urges them to view their operations as a business, not strictly as part of their Sami cultural heritage or on the basis of prestige.

“The business must adapt to the grazing base,” Vedum told Aftenposten, which reported that some undernourished reindeer brought in for slaughter in Karasjok are as small as sheep, because of inadequate winter grazing. Vedum wants as much as 25 percent of the reindeer population of last spring before calving, 186,300, to be reduced by 38,700 animals.

The agricultural ministry subsidizes reindeer herding with around NOK 104 million annually. Owners that don’t go along with the slaughter order will receive less assistance, and/or be hit with forced slaughtering, Vedum warned.

Nils Henrik Sara of the Norwegian Sami reindeer owners association (Norske reindriftssamers landsforbund, NRL) agrees that the number of reindeer must be reduced, but he fears an unfair process.

“Some owners have already reduced their herds, others haven’t,” Sara told Aftenposten. “If everyone has to reduce again, those who didn’t obey will become the winners.”

Reindeer owners are currently in the process of moving their herds from their summer grazing grounds along the coast back to the inland areas of the vast Arctic region known as Finnmarksvidda. Slaughterhouse operators say they have capacity and market demand for the meat, not least after the state has sponsored campaigns to promote reindeer as a unique Norwegian food source.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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