Last Goat Farm in Iceland Awaits Auction

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Last Goat Farm in Iceland Awaits Auction

Icelandic goats

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

The only commercial goat farm in Iceland, which contains about 22 percent of the Icelandic goat population, will be put up for auction in mid-September barring government intervention. Jón Hallsteinn Hallsson, the chairman of the Agricultural Ministry’s genetics committee does not expect that anyone will want to take over the farm, and it is therefore likely that the 190 adult goats and their 200 kids will be sent to the slaughterhouse come September, visir.is reports.  

According to the conservation agreement signed by Iceland at the UN Rio Convention in 1992, the Icelandic government is required to protect the Icelandic goat from extinction. The population currently numbers only 850 animals but needs to contain at least a 1,000 nanny goats in order to be considered safe. The Farmers’ Association has been in charge of issuing support funds to goat farmers, but those are only ISK 4,200 (USD 36, EUR 27) per goat per year, up to 20 goats per farmer, down from ISK 6,500 (USD 56, EUR 42) in 2011.

“It is of course terrible that the contribution has been lowered, and that nothing is given for more than 20 goats, but these are simply the finances we have available to us,” said Ólafur Dýrmundsson, who has been in charge of the program for over two decades, in an interview with Fréttatíminn last month. 

“What I think is the key to securing the future of the goat, and what would conserve the population, is to utilize the output of the goat. These products need to enter the general market,” Ólafur added.

About half of the total income of sheep farmers comes from government funds. Ólafur thinks that could well be applied to goat farmers as well, as long as their products were on the general market. “In Iceland the funding system for sheep farmers is based on productivity. If goat farmers were to enter that system they would have to prove their production value.”

Interest in those products certainly seems to exists as Jóhanna B. Þorvaldsdóttir, the owner of the farm, reports that any goat meat she puts up for sale is gone immediately, she cannot keep up with demand. Goat milk is also popular, particularly as it is lacks alpha S1 casein protein, found in cows’ milk and the most common offender when it comes to milk allergies. It is also more easily digested by humans than cow’s milk and therefore often suitable for those who are lactose intolerant.

Jóhanna also said that she regularly receives requests for goat cheese, but she is unable to acquire a license to mass produce cheese without the proper pasteurization facilities, which the farm lacks. She also criticizes regulations regarding unpasteurized cheese products in Iceland. “I think it’s simply ridiculous that everything here is so forbidden. In Europe, where it is much hotter than here and facilities often much poorer than is demanded by our standards, people are making cheeses from unpasteurized milk … Then I don’t understand how the importation of pasteurized cheese for personal consumption is allowed, but you can’t come to my farm and buy unpasteurized cheese for personal consumption,” Jóhanna said.

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, who was an MP at the time, proposed to parliament a resolution encouraging the Minister of Industries and Innovation to take action to strengthen the Icelandic goat population prior to the election season last year. In the resolution it is claimed that if nothing is done, then it might soon be too late. Sigurður Ingi is now the Minister of Agriculture and has yet to respond to Jóhanna’s requests for a meeting, which she first requested in August last year. He has also refused to answer Fréttablaðið’s questions on the matter.

Jón is concerned that if pleas to help the Icelandic goat are ignored before the September deadline arrives, years, if not decades of work will go down the drain. “On one hand we are concerned for the genetic diversity of the Icelandic goat. Then additionally this farm is in a unique position as the only goat farm in the country where there is any possibility of utilizing the products for the general market. We believe that serious innovative work has been done, for instance in regards to product development it is a serious concern if that work is wasted before all possibilities have been investigated. Because if this doesn’t work out, I highly doubt that anyone will be convinced to try it again,” said Jón.

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