From Iceland — MEATGATE: Conservatives Want Meat Imports, Minister's Job Hangs In Balance

MEATGATE: Conservatives Want Meat Imports, Minister’s Job Hangs In Balance

Published August 18, 2011

A conservative MP has called for allowing meat to be imported, and for a deal to be worked out with the country’s sheep farmers. Meanwhile, the Minister of Agriculture is in the position of losing his job.
As reported, so much Icelandic lamb is being exported for foreign markets that meat sellers say they cannot buy domestic lamb for a fair price that would allow them to turn a profit. This, they say, has led to a shortage of domestic lamb, although lamb farmers insist that there is no shortage. However, if meat sellers are having to pay 20% more for lamb meat than before, which has been reported to be the case, they remain unable to make any money from selling it in Iceland.
Minister of Agriculture Jón Bjarnason has been completely against the idea of importing meat, saying that he wants to ensure the food quality of Icelanders. This has led to some harsh criticism from numerous corners of Icelandic society.
Conservative MP Sigurður Kári Kristjánsson now says he wants to allow imports of meat, so long as it is done with the cooperation of Iceland’s sheep farmers.
“I have always favoured freedom in business, whether in agriculture or other products. The Icelandic government should have taken this step long ago,” he said. “Farmers discuss matters in good faith, and if people want to discuss things with fairness and an open mind, anything is possible.”
Meanwhile, controversy has arisen over the minister’s agricultural position. Jón has been and remains a strong opponent of Iceland joining the European Union, although it is the official position of the ruling coalition that the country will accede. Minister of Foreign Affairs Össur Skarphéðinsson has been repeatedly asking Jón to submit a report on Iceland’s agricultural policy for the EU – even if Iceland is in accession talks with the EU, joining will not happen without, among other things, a summary of the country’s agricultural state.
Sources close to Morgunblaðið and Vísir have confirmed that Jón’s stalling has put him in danger of losing his job. Bjarni Harðarson, the minister’s public relations officer, said on the other hand that this was false. “There’s no one here packing their things,” he said.

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