Norwegian farmers, angry that their state subsidy demands haven’t been met, set up blockades around wholesale food distribution centers all over the country on Friday morning. Grocery store chain Coop called the protest action “meaningless and ridiculous,” and warned that consumers would be hit the hardest.
“The farmers are punishing the customers they live off of,” Bjørn Takle Friis, spokesman for Coop Norge and its 1,200 grocery stores around the country, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “They’re biting themselves in the tail with this.”
Friis warned that the blockades, set up two days after the farmers’ lobbying organizations cut off subsidy negotiations with state officials, could lead to empty shelves in local stores. “Fruit and vegetables rot quite quickly,” Friis said. He also warned that ranchers risked being able to deliver their livestock to the butchers, because there might not be enough capacity to receive it if the supply chain remains disrupted.
NorgesGruppen, which controls Norway’s biggest wholesaler Asko and dominates the grocery retail market as well, also criticized the farmers’ blockades, which ran from 6-9am Friday morning at 26 warehouses for Norway’s three major grocery store chains Coop, Rema and NorgesGruppen. “Even after just three to four hours, this will have consequences,” NorgesGruppen spokesman Per Roskifte told NRK. He noted that the blockades were set up just before the weekend, when grocery deliveries are highest.
Not all truck drivers honoured the blockades, with one Danish driver running his large truck straight through one set up outside a Coop warehouse in Bergen. “He had no patience and was quite upset,” said Bodil Fjeltveit of the local farmers’ organization Bergen Bondelag. “He broke through all the obstacles we had set up. Otherwise we’ve mostly been respected by the drivers here.”
Lars Petter Bartnes, leader of the large farmers’ organization Norges Bondelag, told news service NTB that the protest action was called off after three hours. “We achieved what we wanted,” Bartnes claimed. “We were able to make the point that having Norwegian-produced food in the stores can’t be taken for granted.”
He’s been leading the effort to secure around NOK1.4 billion in state subsidy and protection for Norwegian farmers. Norway’s conservative government coalition, which has been trying to reform Norwegian agriculture to make it more efficient and improve economies of scale, offered just over NOK 400 million. Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale has claimed that will still secure average annual pay raises for farmers that are higher than most all other working groups in Norway. Now it will be up to Parliament to agree on how much financial aid Norway’s farmers will get this year.