“I see great opportunities in food production for Iceland and I think we should take a note of what the Swedish are doing with their Sweden, the food country project,” says Eygló Harðardóttir, Iceland’s Minister of Social Affairs and Housing.
The vision of the Swedish authorities is that Sweden becomes the new “food country” in Europe, based on Swedish food tradition, valuable nature and culture, unique raw materials and chefs with great international achievements. We could do all this as well. In the Government’s manifesto, emphasis is laid on actions to increase Icelandic food production with special emphasis on export and Iceland’s uniqueness regarding cleanliness and quality of raw materials.
Through increased sustainability and environmentally friendly food production we cater to a fast growing group of consumers, both domestically and abroad. Increased domestic food production provides an opportunity for increased economic growth and employment. The opportunities lie in food processing, export and tourism as well as in the agricultural sector.
Fresh food makes our position unique. The country is large and we have ample access to clean water. High quality raw materials are the key to everything in food production, and there we can rely on the agriculture and unspoiled nature.
The world faces a challenge when it comes to food production, but new development in food production must respect quality and food safety. Governments should attempt to increase the number of producers, both large and small.
The government is the principal buyer of food and this entails great responsibility. Public policy is very important when food is bought for the thousands of meals that are served every day in schools, hospitals and retirement homes.
In reality, a refreshed awareness is called for in the selection of food and companies and institutions must apply attentiveness when recruiting and training employees for the purchase and processing of food. Emphasis must be laid on thrifty use of raw materials and economical procurement, without affecting the quality of the meals.
Food is a large part of our experience when visiting other countries. We must exploit this fact here in Iceland. It might even be said that the sale of food to foreign visitors is a form of export. Klaus Kretzer’s spicy lamb sausages are an excellent example of this. The sausages have become a part of the experience of the tourists visiting Skaftafell and Öræfi. While creating his sausage Klaus received assistance from the staff of Matís’s Food Lab in Höfn. We must do more of this. Therefore, it was very pleasing that the project “Arctic Bioeconomy” was part of the Icelandic chairmanship programme under the Nordic Council of Ministers. The project created almost 30 new products that were created in cooperation with Matís.
The government is under obligation to safeguard Iceland’s uniqueness. The reputation of Icelandic food is part of this uniqueness and we must support development in this sector.
We can do this by assisting Icelanders taking part in international culinary competitions, publishing of cookbooks and TV programs and of course by operating a wide variety of Icelandic restaurants. That is how we promote our food, motivate people to visit Iceland and support Icelandic food production.
This interview with the minister is from Matís’ annual report for 2014.