Sunrise/sunset: 02:57/22:36. Daylength: 19h39min
This week marked the official change in Norway from the old Animal Health Law to a new version. The changes stem from changes in the EU’s legal requirements. Norway isn’t in the EU, but we do follow their rules and these particular rules are mostly based around the protection from, and prevention of, infectious diseases in the animal population. The regulations cover everything from wild boar to fish, and even extends to bees.
My own special interest this week was goats. Mattilsynet have designated hobby goats as a particular point of interest this year, following an outbreak of sheep scab (caused by mites) in small herds of pet goats. Movement of pet animals tends to be much less well controlled than with larger, commercial herds, where professional farmers are generally more aware of the law. We had an animal health and welfare team meeting planned for Thursday and Friday at Malangen. The intention was to carry out inspections on traceability and TSE (Scrapie) on the way to the conference centre, have a lunch to lunch meeting, then do more visits on the way home.
Thomas and I were to do these inspections together and Thomas was busy, so on Monday I set to with planning. I started by printing out information sheets about the symptoms of Scrapie and the legal requirements goat owners had to follow if their animals died unexpectedly. There’s a whole lot of official paperwork involved in any visit. It was only when I was halfway through this project, with seven TSE inspection kits underway, when I realised that the law changes had not been updated in MATS, the computer system we use for recording such inspections.
I rang Line, who was arranging the team meeting, and asked her whether there were any contingency plans in place, to which she replied there weren’t. She asked if I had time to look at it, which fortunately I did. So then, my task for the week was to try and work out how to manage the situation, and then explain it all to the rest of the team, so they could do some inspections on the way home, even if they hadn’t been able to do any on the way there.
And so, I spent the early part of the week tracking down the wandering regulations. Norway has tended to be ahead of EU law anyway, in terms of keeping out infectious diseases and in biosecurity on farms, and what I found was that most of the law remained exactly the same, but was now in a different order.
Whenever we carry out an inspection, we have to relate it to one law or another: we can’t just go out and give our opinion on whether things are being done right. If the animal owners are complying with the law, then we don’t give much detail on which laws we checked in the reports we send. If we do observe something illegal, we have to quote the section of law which covers it, explain what it was that we saw that we consider breaks the law, and lay out what the animal owner has to remedy. In some instances that’s quite straightforward. If the law says that all goats have to have ear tags by the time they are a week old, and there are adult goats without ear tags, then the solution isn’t difficult. But the finer details of those laws are currently covered by the Animal Health Law and all its supporting regulations, and now I was unable to use those laws because the system was out of date.
Assuming there must be a back-up plan, I fired off an e-mail to our local advisor on such topics and then carried on setting up the packs I had begun. I was hoping that someone else had started to put something together and I could be pointed in the right direction. If I dived in blind, it seemed likely that I would end up duplicating work someone else had already carried out. I got a reply back quite quickly, pointing me not to the specific situation I was dealing with, but on some more general considerations about what to do if you found something that broke the law while the new law was not yet in the system.
The general instruction was, that in the absence of specific Animal Health Laws, we should use Matloven – the Food Act. This is a more reasonable suggestion than it might appear on first sight. Much of our law around animal health is governed by the fact that many animals end up in the food chain: in order to produce safe food, you need to deliver healthy animals.
The downside was that compared with the animal health law, the Food Act is very non-specific in terms of animal health. I spent a lot of time reading through, and though it gave overarching instructions, it was low on detail. I was still tempted to go ahead with the inspections. After all, it wouldn’t really matter too much… but then I realised I was assuming that all the visits would go well. If we discovered a significant problem, we would find ourselves trying to to bend a law designed to safeguard the consumer by ensuring the traceability of a pack of hot dogs to the specifics regarding the ages of animals when their ear tags should be in place.
Further complications were brought to my attention when it was pointed out that, to be covered by the Food Act, the animal owners had to be from registered premises where they were sending their produce into the food chain. That doesn’t cover people who are keeping their goats as pets! And so, after three days trying to find ways and means, I concluded that the health of the hobby goats of mid-Troms would be better left uninspected until our systems are updated.
I was of course, slightly concerned. Line had confidently written in the meeting plan that I was going to update everyone on the checking, and now my update was that there was to be none, at least for now. I needn’t have worried. As I am gradually realising, the one constant when working for Mattilsynet is that any plan you make is likely to change from one moment to the next. In a minor twist, I had discovered that though Norway’s law had changed, Svalbard’s has not. My suggestion in the meeting, that we should simply relocate to Svalbard and do all our routine testing there was greeted with smiles. Our region is, after all, Troms AND Svalbard. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to know if there are any hobby goats on Svalbard. Moreover, we had the sauna and jacuzzi at Malangen booked for Thursday evening. So, with everything considered, we reluctantly concluded we would just have to do the inspections later.
Malangen Resort was lovely. Now that the Covid restrictions are lifted and we are able to meet in person again, I am discovering that there’s a definite advantage in working in a location where there are so few of us covering such a large area. In smaller regions, everyone would drive to a central office and meet there. Here, because of the distances involved, we tend to meet in conference centres or hotels, and some of them are in stunning locations.
So this was my hotel room overnight, and the view outside. Just wonderful, although in true Norwegian style, there was no decaffeinated coffee or milk with the beautifully arranged coffee cups.
Of course, I could have asked for milk, but I was too busy enjoying myself in the jacuzzi and sauna. Thanks to Line for arranging it all. I should say, we paid for those ourselves – my job is stressful, but even in Norway, there are limits!
There may not have been milk for the coffee in the bedroom, but the food was modern, with a definite flavour of Norway. Reindeer stew, reindeer carpaccio, cod and mushy peas, and lemon cake.
Much as I loved the hotel and the views and the jacuzzi, the best thing about the lifting of the Covid restrictions is getting to meet people again. Always difficult to say at what point colleagues become friends, but even with the wonderful surroundings, the best part for me was the conversation and companionship. In a tough job, those things are beyond price.