Tag Archives: Mattilsynet

Sausages on Sticks

Sunrise/sunset: 05:24 / 20:05. Daylength: 14hr 40min.

Autumn is arriving here in Northern Norway. The leaves on the trees are beginning to fade and on sunny mornings, mist swirls over the lakes and the fields along the valley floor and swathes the mountain sides in ribbons of white. The lower slopes are wooded with silver birch and rowan trees and within the next week or so they will turn to gold.

But for now, it’s still warmish in the daytime. Today it’s 12°C and raining and it was similar on Monday morning when Hilde suggested the possibility of a trip. She had mentioned during my first week that we might go out one day and cook hot dogs (or pølse, as they are called here) but nothing had come of it. I had written it off as one of those conversations where I had perhaps misunderstood something on a subject that wasn’t important enough to raise it after the event… but here it was again.

We were drinking coffee at the time: several of us, sitting together. There was some discussion about the weather as we all looked out of the window, but Hilde was sanguine. “It’s going to clear up this afternoon,” she declared, and held out her mobile with the weather forecast on Yr.no. Though it showed the symbol with the sun peeping out from a cloud, she seemed confident that this was good enough.

And so at twelve o’clock, when lunch was finished, we set out to drive to Sørvika.

It seemed a pleasant place.  There were flat meadows where you could pitch a tent, alongside grassy woodland. The sound of waves told me we were close to the shore. But for now, we lifted wood and bags of food from the boot of the car and began to make our way to the place we would light our fire.

Being outdoors is a very important part of Norwegian life. There’s a definite sense that one should not be put off by the weather. But that goes hand in hand with an acceptance that the weather exists and though many of its effects can be offset by the right clothes, sometimes additional protection is needed. The sky overhead was still grey and so I was pleasantly surprised to find that we would actually be lighting our fire inside a little shelter.


Ronny, who had driven Øivind and I to the site, began to pull bark (to use for kindling) off the wood we had brought  and within minutes, our fire was burning brightly. He pulled out a kettle, filled it with water, and balanced it on the stones at the edge.

Hilde in the meantime, had helped unpack the bags but had then wandered off. When she came back she was carrying a stick and a knife, so I went to investigate. Any Norwegian schoolchild would have recognised what she was doing. They hand out whittling knives to six year olds here. Most of them survive and by the time they are adults, they have excellent knife skills. But to me, the uninitiated, it was a mystery.

“It’s for cooking the pølse,” she explained as she showed me the long stick she was holding, the end of which was stripped of bark and whittled to a point.

She stopped and inspected her stick, and seemingly satisfied, she nodded, then to my consternation, handed me the knife. “It’s your turn,” she told me with a smile.

I confess that I wandered quite a way off before I found my stick. Hilde had explained that I would have to cut it from a tree as it had to be fresh so it wouldn’t burn. It also had to be long enough that I wouldn’t burn myself and thick enough to hold a hot dog without bending so much that it was in the fire. Quite apart from that, I didn’t want anyone to watch my fumbling efforts with the knife.

Though it wasn’t easy to clip my chosen branch from the tree, the whittling itself was curiously satisfying. The knife was properly sharp and used lengthways with the grain, it didn’t take too long to carve my stick into a reasonable shape. Though it wasn’t as elegant as Hilde’s stick, it certainly did the job.

As we began to cook the hot dogs, and Ronny grilled some burgers, it began to rain. I had half expected that the shelter would not be adequate, but to my pleasure, the roof was perfectly sized to keep all those sitting inside dry. It was very cosy sitting there as the rain dripped outside. The fire was burning bright and warm and there was no wind.

The hot dogs tasted delicious, as you would expect, as did the burgers.  And afterwards, when the rain had cleared, we walked through the trees and down the steep path that led to the beach. It truly is a beautiful place.

It was, all in all, probably the most satisfying afternoon I’ve ever had at work. There’s no doubt that doing these things helps to build friendships within the workplace. I will be going back to Sørvika as well. I want to share it with John and Andrew, and Anna my daughter when she comes home for Christmas.

A barbecue in the snow? Sounds good to me!

Killing Time

Sunrise/sunset: 04:57 / 20:37. Daylength: 15hr 40min.

On Monday, Hilde drove me over to the abattoir where I will be spending a good chunk of my working days over the next few weeks. With the short summer and long, hard winter, most of the spring lambs will be brought in before it’s time for the remaining animals to be moved into their winter housing. Vets play an essential part in the process. The health of the animals must be checked before they are humanely killed and the welfare and conditions are carefully monitored.

Afterwards, a team of vets and technicians inspect the meat to check whether it is fit for consumption. This is another chance to check health and welfare. All the information from the checks, both ante and post mortem, is recorded. Nobody could claim it’s glamorous work, but as well as ensuring the animals are treated well in the abattoir, the findings are used to assess whether there might be problems on the farms where the animals were raised. If the animals are too thin, have overgrown feet, or show significant signs of illness, then a message is sent back to the local Mattilsynet office, where their vets will contact the farmer and take measures to improve the situation.

On Monday’s visit I was fitted out with a uniform, boots, a locker and a card to open the door. Hilde brought cake again, and I met a few of the staff.

On Tuesday I drove through again with Thomas. I had met him on my first day at work and he seemed friendly, but I hadn’t seen him since. Now he was to give me my first taste in working in an abattoir in northern Norway.

For my part, I was most interested in the inspection of the live animals. It is hard to spend much time on the internet without seeing horror stories, but my impression over the course of the first week has been that most of the animals coming through are very relaxed. Though the pigs all had balls in their pens to play with, most of them were sleeping when we went to see them. Some of the sheep were more skittish than others, but many of them came and were nibbling on my wellington boots. All animals have fresh water in their pens and any cows that are milking are milked if they are in for any length of time. The surroundings are quite similar to those you’d see on the farm and most farms here in Norway are small, so a lot of the animals are used to being handled.

The slaughter process itself was quick and efficient. Thomas showed me how to time the interval between stunning and bleeding. With the cattle, we checked the animal was unconscious before being moved on to the next stage.

It’s a forty minute drive to get to the abattoir and the road is dotted with warning signs for moose. Thomas told me I would see more of them in the winter, though for now they are elusive. The filling station near the E6 has leaflets explaining what to do and who to call if you hit one. I hope it never happens to me, though it is possible I might be called out to do meat inspection on those too if they are injured and have to be shot.

It’s cooling towards autumn now. It was 4°C when I arrived at work yesterday morning. Though the trees are still clinging to their leaves, they are beginning to fade. The ground flora is wonderfully colourful and intensifying as a multitude of berries appear.

There was only one near miss with technology this week. Thomas handed me over to Ammar on Wednesday and he suggested some reading material. The season (as they call it) will begin very soon, and by then I have to be up to speed with meat inspection for lamb. Back in the office, I had chosen a pin code for the printer. You send your file, retrieve it and then put in your number. I assumed the process was the same in the abattoir, and so I went through the retrieval process and began to put in my four figure number. Luckily Ammar stopped me in time, before I set the printer in action printing out *9250 copies of an eight page document on red meat.

Friday afternoon was rounded off with waffles. In Norway they are traditionally eaten with strawberry jam and soured cream. It took me a while to get used to this combination, but now I love it. And what could be more Norwegian than a mountain of waffles to round off the week?

*Not my actual PIN.

Piece of Cake

*Sunrise/sunset: 04:27 / 21:10. Daylength: 16hr 43min.

It’s always an advantage in a new job to make a good first impression and so I arrived on my first day determined to do just that. I am working for Mattilsynet, which is the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. Mattilsynet has a wide remit. As well as working to ensure Norwegian food and drinking water are safe, Mattilsynet oversees all aspects of food production from farm or fjord right to the point of eating. People in Norway will be familiar with Mattilsynet’s Smiley Faces that indicate that the kitchen in the restaurant you’re about to eat in is clean.

My new boss, Hilde, welcomed me into the office at 8am, and introduced me to some of the other staff. Everyone seemed very friendly and the day began with coffee – which took me back years to working in large animal practice in Scotland. The surroundings were much brighter and more modern though, which will be important in winter. As well as the friendly critter at the top of the page, the office has a massage chair, attractive pictures of local scenes and on that Wednesday, in honour of my beginning, there was a large chocolate cake!

There is always a lot to remember when you start a new job and this one was no exception. I was soon knee deep in complicated Norwegian words about how national and local government works, but Hilde had put together a very comprehensive introductory programme to work through, which was reassuring.

The start of day two was marginally embarrassing. I had been given an electronic key fob thing to get in the door… and I had forgotten it. One of my new colleagues let me in with a smile and it was quickly pushed aside. More complicated Norwegian and a lesson in how to book one of the office cars followed and I made up my mind that on day three, all would go to plan and nothing would go wrong.

Met this little family as I walked home from work.

I had decided to walk in on the third day. One of my aims is to get out and about more and it seemed like a good way to start the morning. I set out at seven to walk down and arrived about half an hour later, feeling pleased with myself. I had remembered everything today – the little electronic fob was in my pocket and the sun was almost shining.

It was dark inside when I opened the office door. I was slightly surprised as I hadn’t expected to be the first there quite so soon. Still, I remembered that Hilde had explained that I shouldn’t turn on the main lights if I arrived first as some of my colleagues liked to have a nice peaceful start to the day. I knew there was an alarm system, but it hadn’t gone off, so I assumed there was someone around. I took a step further into the building and realised my mistake as the bleep, bleep of the alarm system kicked in.

Despite not knowing the code, I still felt very calm. Hilde had sent me a message about getting in the day before I started work, so I put my coat and bag down on the floor, pulled my phone out of my pocket and scrolled quickly up. But though there was a message about getting in, it was about accessing the computer system, not the door.

My heart was beating a little faster now, but I reminded myself it could all be sorted out. All I had to do was call Hilde, but the bleeping was accelerating and within moments, it was wailing loudly enough to deter even the most determined of thieves.

Though I couldn’t remember any code, one thing I did remember was Hilde telling me that if there was an accident with the alarm, there was a phone number on the keypad and in order to stop any further action (I presume it may be linked to the police, or some kind of security firm) I had to speak to someone. Taking a deep breath, I typed the number into my phone. I could call Hilde afterwards, I thought. Better that than having someone rush out and then charging a fee. I put the phone to my ear and could hear nothing due to the screech of the alarm. I would just step outside the door, I thought. Then I could have a conversation. I could remember what I had to say. I could sort all this out and still be sitting at my desk by the time Hilde came.

To my relief, the call was answered quickly and I explained what had happened. The noisy alarm went off and with a sigh of relief, I ended the call and returned to the door… which of course had locked itself behind me. I reached into my pocket… only to realise that I had put down my jacket and bag and everything I was holding on the floor. The little electronic fob was now inside the building and I wasn’t.

Walking back out into the open air, I leaned against the wall and pulled out my phone. There was nothing left to do but wait. 

So much for good first impressions! Only day three, and so far, I hadn’t managed to get into the building without assistance. Fortunately Hilde arrived first, and if she thought I was an idiot, she didn’t let on.

And despite all that, my new job shows every sign of being every bit as interesting as I hoped when I first read the advertisement. One of the tasks in my comprehensive introductory programme was to look through my colleague’s calendars, see what they are doing, and perhaps ask if I can go along with them to find out more about what they do. The most interesting item I found was tantalisingly entitled Status Bjørn, so I decided I would ask about it next time we had coffee.

Despite the interesting title, I was half expecting Status Bjørn might be a boring exercise, or similar, but I listened in amazement as Hilde explained that there was a bear in the region, which unfortunately has got a taste for eating the local sheep. Moreover, she is a mother bear with two large cubs. Shooting her is not an option and so the only possibility is to sedate both her and her young and move them to another area where there aren’t any farms for her to raid. This is, however, a very complicated exercise, and one that Mattilsynet, in the shape of Hilde and Thomas (another colleague) are involved in to ensure animal welfare is prioritised.

So there you go. It’s only my opinion I know, but I don’t think veterinary work gets much more exciting than that. Next week I will be doing some work in the slaughterhouse, which is less romantic, but equally essential. Making sure an animal is treated well is just as important at the end of its life as it is at the beginning. And so here I am, aged 51… and on the cusp of what is looking like an interesting and challenging new career.

Wish me luck!

*I thought I should add in sunrise/sunset times and day length at the start of each post. It’s already changing fast and I want to give a sense of that.