Pigs suffering at Norwegian farms

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Agricuture Minister Jon Georg Dale has called the pork industry and its representatives in on the proverbial carpet, after terrible conditions have been revealed at pig farms in southwestern Norway. Another case of poor animal welfare was reported just last week, the latest in a string of embarrassing incidents for farmers who survive on public support for their state subsidies and regulated, often high, prices.

Norwegian farmers depend on state subsidy and public support, but stand to lose their customers’ confidence after a series of cases involving poor animal welfare. PHOTO: Mattilsynet

The farmers’ image has been tarnished considerably in recent months, after state agricultural inspectors and veterinarians found pigs living in excessively filthy environments, undernourished, suffering from infections and injured. Last week’s surprise inspection at a pig farm in Rogaland County revealed critical conditions and several animals that had to be put out of their misery.

The farm, moreover, is owned by a man who had been hired by the dominant meat cooperative Nortura, which controls the meat market in Norway, to give other pig farmers advice on caring for animals. Inspectors found several animals at his farm with their tails bitten off and with open sores, and some that couldn’t manage to even stand up because of injury or illness.

“There’s no doubt this is a serious case,” Torgeir Erfjord, regional chief for Nortura, admitted to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We are both surprised and disappointed over what’s come forth. This is unacceptable, and not in line with the standards our advisers should maintain.”

Neglect and maltreatment
Animal rights activists have protested the neglect and maltreatment of animals at several other pig farms in recent months. In one case, inspectors from the state food safety agency Mattilsynet found dead animals and appalling conditions at a farm owned by the local leader of the powerful farmers’ lobbying organization Bondelaget, also in Rogaland. He now faces losing the right to ever raise or care for pigs again.

“It’s shocking that a man in his position, who should set the standard for other pig farmers, has such problems,” Kaja Ringnes Efskind of the animal protection organization Dyrevernalliansen told NRK in December. He’d reportedly received many warnings earlier, before state authorities lost patience and confidence in him, and put him on the equivalent of probation.

This was one of the photos from Mattilsynet that NRK published recently, showing an injured pig that can’t stand up. PHOTO: Mattilsynet

Several others cases have been reported in Norwegian media as well, and public reaction was strong when NRK published photos and videos taken by Mattilsynet inspectors at other pig farms during the past half-year. Inspectors found one dead pig, lying among others still alive, that had been dead so long its cadaver was rotting. At one farm in the Rogaland community of Time, so many dead pigs were found in November that all the others were destroyed as well. “This was a huge animal tragedy,” said Odd Ivar Berget, division chief for Mattilsynet.

Another farmer was found to have prevented his livestock from being outdoors or getting any fresh air for years. Mattilsynet itself reported that violations of animal welfare regulations were found in fully 40 percent of all farms inspected

“I think this is terribly sad,” said Marit Epletveit, leader of Rogaland Bondelag. “It’s very bad when we have such attitudes and poor animal welfare among our members.” She admitted that the organization has no routines for monitoring conditions at the farms of its members. “It hasn’t been a big problem until now, but it’s clear that we must do something,” she told NRK.

Several of the cases surfaced just as Nortura’s Gilde meat brand was heavily advertising pork in the weeks before Christmas, romanticizing it as fresh, local, traditional food from Norwegian farmers who often are held in high esteem. “All these photos (of sick and injured animals and filthy barns) came at a bad time,” one farmer told NRK in December.

Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale has summoned pork industry representatives to a meeting to discuss poor animal welfare in Norway. PHOTO: Landbruksdepartementet

Berget of Mattilsynet told NRK in mid-December that he thought the farmers were taking the situation seriously and making improvements. More than a month later, new cases of substandard farms have come to light and now the government is reacting. All major players in the industry have been “invited” to discuss the numerous cases of poor animal welfare with the minister himself and his staff. Those called in include Norges Bondelag, Norske Bonde- og Småbrukarlag, Norsvin and Nortura.

“I have invited the industry to a meeting at the ministry,” Dale of the conservative Progress Party told NRK. “We will go through what clearly is poor animal welfare. I am prepared to follow up with stricter regulations and more frequent inspections.”

Mattilsynet started an inspection project in Rogaland last year, which explains why so many of the cases revealed have been in Rogaland. The question now is what conditions are like at all the other pig farms in Norway.

“The industry must clean themselves up,” said Dale, who comes from a farm family himself. “In Norway we’re supposed to be known for good animal welfare. There are many good pig farmers, but it doesn’t take many cases to ruin the reputation for an entire region. That’s my concern.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund