“We must kill all of our quails by Friday the 13th, 2018.”
That blog post was written a day before what will be a very unlucky day indeed for 80 quail at Polar Permaculture that must be killed because the Norwegian Food Safety Authority has ruled the birds violate a ban on importing livestock in Svalbard and are a potential disease risk.
“I really do not want to kill healthy birds,” Benjamin Vidmar, founder of Polar Permaculture, told Svalbardposten. “We have had a veterinarian look at them and hoped we could keep the birds if there was no samples of disease found with them. We have been told that they do not have salmonella.”
The quails have been at Polar Permaculture for the past year, and the eggs have been offered in dishes at restaurants including Huset, and sold in cartons at Svalbardbutikken. The food safety authority originally told Vidmar the birds needed to be killed last Friday, but he managed to postpone the deadline to discuss the order with the agency.
But on Thursday the birds’ final fate was announced on Polar Permaculture’s blog.
“The decision has been (made) that we must kill all of our quails and are not allowed to have them,” the post declared. “There was concerns about virus, but after we met all of those demands it was decided that we still could not have them. We will have them all killed by Friday and will not have fresh local quail eggs after that. They served us well, and we gained plenty of valuable experience, but we cannot continue to use time and resources to fight for the cause.”
The announcement quickly stirred up a passioned debate on local social media pages, with most commenters expressing anger for various reasons at the government’s decision.
“It angers me that they cannot use common sense in this case,” wrote Stine Paulsrud Haugen in a post on Polar Permaculture’s Facebook page. “Hope somehow you can fight this, because what you have done with these quails is amazing and beneficial to so many.”
Vidmar, in an online interview, wrote he didn’t actually import birds –he bought quail eggs from Stavanger, where local restaurants also purchase them, but hatched them instead of consuming them. He did so without authorization from the Food Safety Authority, but wrote “it is very complicated to know how to get anything done here.”
“When I sent an e-mail to (the agency) I got a phone call back that they did not know” if the birds were permissible, Vidmar wrote. “Then after a few more calls/visits I was told no. Why didn’t I get official paper work saying no? They make it like I never applied.”
“I have been asking for permission from (the municipal government, governor and Food Safety Authority) for a long time now. They never took me serious and only said no.”
The ban on importing animals is intended to prevent diseases that can infect wildlife, Hilde Haug, section chief of the Food Safety Authority in Tromsø, told Svalbardposten.
“The rules are there to protect Svalbard and the mainland from infection between the areas, and they work efficiently,” she said.
Vidmar, who gained notoriety for importing 13,000 worms to make soil during the early stages of his Polar Permaculture project, stated in his online comments he obtained permission for them simply by sending an e-mail.
He also noted there are tropic birds in Svalbard kept as pets and some have escaped, including a parakeet he owns.
“Luckily we got her back,” he wrote.
Torkjell Andersen, an administrator at the Food Safety Authority’s Tromsø, stated in an e-mail interview regulations specifically define specials that are OK to be kept as confined pets in cages.
“The law sets a difference between type of birds suitable for pets held, and birds not suitable for pets held like quail,” he wrote. “Parakeet is a bird suitable for pets held. This explains why it is allowed to have a pet bird like parakeet, but not birds like quail, chicken, etc. as pets. The reason for this is the risk of transferring diseases to the wildlife population.”
Importing eggs with the intent of hatching them are subject to the same regulations, Andersen noted.
“The risk for diseases are considered similar,” he wrote.
Polar Permaculture, which started as a fledgling greenhouse project several years ago that suffered some setbacks such as a fire that forced them to destroy all their plants, has blossomed into an Arctic mini-farm with an outdoor greenhouse that is attracting enormous interest as a tourist attraction and subject of media articles/videos. In a recent interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Vidmar said growing food here may seem like a “mission impossible” but it is necessary.