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On the supposed superiority of Icelandic produce

There is a subject close to my heart that I have occasionally considered posting about, and since the discussion has recently arisen on our Facebook page, I figured this was as good a time as any.

vistvæntIt concerns the supposed superiority of Icelandic produce, and this image of Iceland as somehow pure and untainted in all things pertaining to nature and food production. Sadly, this is a misconception. Icelandic poultry is factory farmed under WORSE conditions than in Europe, as Icelandic farmers have not implemented regulations set by EFTA about cage sizes, etc. There are generally three chickens to a space the size of an A4 piece of paper. Consequently salmonella outbreaks are frequent and chicken routinely has to be recalled from supermarket shelves. Chicken farmers will not allow media inside to film or photograph their factories.

Beef and dairy farming is not much better – it has recently come to light that there are farms that completely ignore animal protection laws, treating their livestock very cruelly (neck harnesses that are too low so the animals can never stand up straight, they never see the outside of a cowshed, etc.) and do so with complete impunity. Worse, consumers are unable to boycott those specific farms since all milk goes into one big vat.

Pork farming is horrendous – sows are kept in pens so tight that they can never turn around, can never nuzzle their piglets, etc. Until just a month or two ago, piglets were castrated without anesthesia, which is illegal. Their testes were simply ripped out of the scrotum. Only after a major outcry and public pressure did pork farmers agree to abide by the law and stop this cruel and heartless practice.

As for Icelandic produce, it has also recently come to light that the labelling “vistvænt”, which basically means “eco-friendly”, has been used for over a decade by various vegetable producers to label their products, and is basically meaningless. There has been no supervision of this labelling, so anyone can stick it on their products, whether they use pesticides or whatever else to augment their production. Meanwhile, we consumers have been buying these products in good faith, believing them to be somehow superior to non-labelled products. AND the few struggling organic farmers in Iceland have been trying to compete, while needing to adhere to very stringent regulations, all with the accompanying costs.

Iceland has the same social problems as everywhere else, albeit on a relatively smaller scale, given the size of the population. There are folks here who have no scruples about breaking the law and/or abusing animals if it is for their own financial gain. (Don’t even get me started on the dog breeding. Or the industrial salt that was sold to food production companies for over a decade and used in our food as regular salt. Yes. Industrial salt, the kind you use to melt ice.)

What is perhaps worse is that we consumers do not have a great deal of lee-way when it comes to selecting products that have been organically or ethically produced. Imports of meat are illegal unless retailers apply for exemptions from the government, and there are no organic chicken or pork farms. (Mind you, that is set to change soon, since there has recently been a major awakening in these matters and two women set up an organic chicken farm last spring, with the first chickens due on the market shortly.)

Bottom line is that the supposed superiority of Icelandic produce – with the exception, perhaps, of lamb and fish, is a myth. And of course the stakeholders – food producers, tourism operators – would like nothing more than to keep that under wraps.

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