Find No Evidence of Seafood Fraud in Iceland Despite 2016 Study Results

fish restaurant

Restaurant inspections in Reykjavík have failed to find evidence of seafood fraud indicated by a 2016 study that made international headlines recently, Vísir reports. The study indicated that Icelandic restaurants had some of the highest rates of mislabelled fish in all of Europe. Óskar Ísfeld Sigurðsson, head of food control at the Reykjavík Public Health Authority, says the study results do not reflect food inspectors’ experience.

UK media outlet the Guardian published an article last week consolidating 44 studies of seafood products sold in restaurants, markets, and auctions around the world over the past several years. The article stated that of some 9,000 products, nearly 40% were incorrectly labelled. In some cases a cheaper fish was labelled as a more expensive variety, while in others potentially poisonous species were mislabelled, leading to health risk.

Study Suggested 40% of Fish Mislabelled

One of the studies cited was published in 2018 and concerned restaurants across Europe. It found the highest percentage of incorrect labelling in Spain, Iceland, France, and Germany. The Icelandic samples for the study were taken at 22 restaurants in 2016. DNA analysis revealed that 23% of the samples belonged to another species than was advertised and fish had been mislabelled at 40% of restaurants.

Jónas Rúnar Viðarsson of Icelandic Food and Biotech Consulting Company Matís was one of the authors of the study. He stated that a comparable inspection has not taken place since. Conducing such studies is expensive and requires special funding. “It is mainly the Public Health Authority in Reykjavík that has some ability to do something, but it also has to monitor a lot of restaurants. These kinds of studies are expensive,” he stated.

Mistakes More Likely Explanation than Scam

Óskar Ísfeld Sigurðsson, head of food control at the Reykjavík Public Health Authority, says the organisation has placed great emphasis on tracing the origin of food products in recent years. While they do not carry out DNA testing like that conducted in the 2016 study, they inspect restaurant menus and whether the correspond to raw ingredients in their freezers and fridges.

“If we see expensive fish on the menu and some cheaper fish in the fridge, it would arouse our suspicion, but we do not see any examples of this. These results don’t match our experience,” Óskar said about the 2016 study. Óskar says he expressed doubt about the study’s results when it was first published, saying he didn’t believe it painted a realistic picture of the situation. He requested information on which restaurants had been found to falsely label fish, but was denied, as the data was collected for a scientific study and not public health monitoring.

According to Óskar, the mislabelling could more likely be attributed to servers incorrectly naming fish on the menu or simply unintentional mistakes. There have even been examples of restaurants selling more expensive species as cheaper species, something no restaurateur would do on purpose.

Conditions At Eruption Site Can Change Quickly, Authorities Warn

Tourist watching lava flow from the crater in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes Peninsula

While the eruption site in Geldingadalur is closed today due to adverse weather conditions and high levels of toxic gases, authorities are aware of people’s interest in seeing the eruption and are working on securing the area and providing safe access. When visiting an active volcanic eruption, there are several things that must be taken into consideration, including the unpredictability of the lava flow, the possibility of new fissures opening in the vicinity of the eruption, and the silent threat of invisible toxic gases, which can prove lethal.

Before the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response decided to shut down access to the eruption site, The Reykjanes Peninsula Police Commissioner had already closed a small area next to the eruption fissure in Geldingadalur. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response Scientific Advisory Board are concerned that the large craters at the centre of the eruption could burst, which would cause the lava flow to change direction quickly, possibly endangering spectators who get too close. There is also a risk of another eruption fissure opening up near the crater, as happened during the eruption at Fimmvörðuháls in 2010.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response. There is currently no access to the eruption site due to high levels of toxic gasses and adverse weather conditions but before the closure, authorities had already closed a particularly dangerous part of the eruption site, marked in red.

Furthermore, other dangers may arise around the eruption site, such as:

  • New cracks can open in the immediate vicinity of the volcano without notice.
  • Searing lava can drop from the edges of the lava field, and sudden, rapid outburst can occur, where tongue-like protrusions of hot lava will burst from the edge at great speeds which can be difficult to outrun.
  • The craters are several meters high and may be unstable. Their sides can break off and cause a large amount of lava to flow suddenly in a new direction.
  • Explosions can occur as the lava flows over waterlogged soil and causes molten lava to fly in any direction.
  • Life-threatening gases can accumulate when the lava flows into depression and valleys and are known to be fatal. This risk increases when the wind dies down.

Several hikers were unprepared for the difficult conditions on the way to the eruption yesterday and many ran into trouble on the way back during the night. While weather conditions for hiking are forecasted to improve over the next few days, Natural Hazard Expert with the Icelandic Meteorological Office Bryndís Ýr Gísladóttir states that better weather might actually make visiting the eruption site more dangerous. “When the wind dies down, the toxic gases don’t disperse as easily, making the area more dangerous,” Bryndís told Iceland Review. Several different types of gases are released during an eruption but the most dangerous to humans are carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide. The levels of toxic gases in the atmosphere depend on several factors, only one of which is wind direction and wind speed. It also depends on how much of the gasses the lava contains, which can’t be easily measured, so experts rely on gas levels in the atmosphere to estimate the danger.

The Icelandic Met Office continue to monitor gas levels around the eruption and publish a gas dispersion forecast on their website. Experts from the Met Office are working closely with the Department of Civil Protection and local authorities to ensure information flow as well as the safety of travellers to the area. The wind is currently carrying gasses northeast from the eruption site towards the capital area but experts do not believe there is a danger of gas pollution for capital area residents.

Icelandic Coast Guard. Director General of the Icelandic Coast Guard (left) and President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson (right).

One of the people who visited the eruption site yesterday was President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. He was brought there on the Icelandic Coast Guard’s helicopter and briefed about the safety and necessary precautions before departure. Guðni told RÚV that the eruption was an unforgettable sight and even though geologists call this a small eruption, it still displays the sublime power of nature. Guðni added that people needed to take great care when visiting the eruption, “Watching the display from a safe distance should be enough to satisfy most people,” Guðni stated.

COVID-19 in Iceland: “We’re at a critical point”

mask use social distancing

A surge in domestic COVID-19 infections over the weekend has Icelandic authorities concerned a new wave of infection is beginning in the country. Twenty-one cases were diagnosed over the weekend, 10 among a ship crew that recently docked in East Iceland and the remaining cases in the Reykjavík capital area. At a briefing in Reykjavík today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason called the uptick in cases “more than a group outbreak” saying the SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to be more widespread in Iceland than authorities previously suspected.

“We’re at a critical point,” Þórólfur stated, encouraging all those with any symptoms whatsoever to get tested and stay at home until they receive negative results. The Chief Epidemiologist is considering whether to recommend tighter domestic restrictions as well as tighter restrictions at the border.

Though other European countries have resumed using the AstraZeneca vaccine following a go-ahead from European Medicines Agency, Iceland will hold off administering the drug until the results of an ongoing Nordic study are available.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

 

On the panel: Director of Health Alma Möller, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson. Authorities scheduled this additional briefing due to an uptick in domestic cases over the weekend, some out of quarantine. Iceland reported 5 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, 3 out of quarantine and 11 at the border. Total active cases: 55. 3 are in hospital, none in ICU.

The briefing has begun. Rögnvaldur starts by stating that in spite of our recent success in containing the pandemic in Iceland, we might be facing a dire situation. Þórólfur states that over the weekend, there were 7 domestic infections diagnosed, only 4 of which were in quarantine. The infections out of quarantine were in people in the same family but the origin of the infection is unknown.

There’s also an increase in infections being diagnosed at the border: 19 infections over the weekend, 10 of which were the crew of a boat arriving in Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland from Brazil. Even though only 10 of the crew of 19 tested positive today, we’re assuming more members of the crew are infected. Three are in hospital, all with the British variant and it’s not unlikely that more people will be hospitalised in the coming days.

There is some cause for concern, says Þórólfur. A pattern is emerging which indicates that domestic infection rates are going up. Þórólfur urges everyone experiencing even the slightest symptoms to get tested as soon as possible and stay at home until they receive the results. Unfortunately, there are still cases of people with symptoms waiting days to get tested, and that can have consequences, says Þórólfur.

Þórólfur is considering his next recommendations for the Health Minister and is considering tightening domestic restrictions. He is also preparing some suggestions for the Minister on tightened border restrictions. As for vaccinations, we’re planning to administer 6,000 doses this week. We’re still waiting to see whether we will resume vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine and Alma will cover that later in this briefing, says Þórólfur. There is cause for concern, but we know what to do at this point. The most important thing is to avoid large gatherings and keep up personal infection preventions. We’re at a critical point, says Þórólfur.

Alma takes over. She states that there is cause for concern and we all need to do our part to make sure we can contain this. Let’s disinfect communal surfaces and keep up personal infection prevention such as hand washing. Most importantly, when experiencing any symptoms, get tested immediately and stay at home until you’re better. Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary, some have mild symptoms but can still transmit the virus to others. Symptoms include cough, muscle pains, fever, sudden changes to sense of smell or taste, and in rarer cases digestive troubles such as diarrhoea and vomiting.

Alma discusses the AstraZeneca vaccine. According to the European Medicines Agency, the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the risk. The serious side effects are very rare, but they might possibly be more common with younger people and possibly women. These rare blood clot conditions are exceedingly rare but there is concern that there’s increased risk of such events after the AstraZeneca vaccinations. In Iceland, there have been two notifications of possible side effects of blood clots but neither of those were linked to these rare conditions. While many countries have already restarted vaccinating with these vaccinations, the Nordic countries have decided to collaborate on further research before resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations. The research will focus on seeing if there’s an increased risk of serious side effects depending on age or gender and a decision will be made once the results are clear.

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur states some infected people might have gone downtown over the weekend or attended large confirmation parties and finding that out is a part of the contact tracing efforts. Þórólfur states that this is larger than a group infection, it’s a community spread of infection but that there’s plenty to consider before tightening restrictions. While some want to wait and see, others want to tighten restrictions immediately. “There is nothing unclear in what I have said, there’s a rise in infections at the border so we need to be very careful. I will not comment on what politicians say, everyone can communicate based on the information available.” -Þórólfur

Alma discusses the upcoming changes to the official contact tracing app. Personal security vetting is ongoing but authorities expect it will be approved and hope to release it sooner rather than later as it will help in tracing, particularly at larger events.

Þórólfur states that border restrictions haven’t been restrictive but they have been effective. Þórólfur’s upcoming recommendations for border regulations relate to monitoring people in quarantine and which certificates authorities will be accepting.

The Nordic co-operation will focus on finding the groups least at risk of serious side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Þórólfur is not trying to instil fear, he’s just informing the public that they’re seeing unrelated infections and that this means that the virus is out there in the community. The new domestic infections are currently just in the capital area but from earlier waves of the pandemic, we know that infections tend to start in the capital area, where the most people are, but can easily spread to the countryside.

Rögnvaldur takes over to close the briefing. Once more, authorities implore people to get tested immediately if they’re experiencing any symptoms. It’s vital to find each infection so we can trace the chain of infection and hopefully stop it. “We’ll get through it together.” – Rögnvaldur. The briefing has ended.

Eruption Site Closed To Spectators

Search-and-rescue volunteers assist a tourist by the new lava in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes Peninsula

The area around the eruption site in Geldingadalur valley on the Reykjanes peninsula is now closed as toxic gas from the eruption measures over the safety limit. There was heavy traffic in the area over the weekend despite adverse weather conditions and up to 140 search- and rescue volunteers spent last evening and night helping ill-prepared tourists get home. People are asked to respect the closure, in a notice from the Reykjanes Police force.

Scientists found that the amount of toxic gases in the area is above safety levels. The area around the eruption site is closed and people are asked to respect the closure. Public Relations Representative for the Icelandic Search-And-Rescue teams Davíð Már Bjarnason told Iceland Review that both police and Search-and-rescue volunteers are monitoring closure points and the only groups allowed in the area today are scientists and trained search-and-rescue volunteers. It’s very dangerous to approach the volcanic eruption at the moment. Weather conditions during the night were bad and a yellow weather alert is currently in place.

Hundreds of people visited the eruption site yesterday despite adverse weather conditions. Yesterday afternoon, the weather turned for the worse and up to 140 search-and-rescue volunteers spent the evening and night monitoring the area and the hiking paths, helping people who got lost or fatigued during the hike. While many people were brought to an emergency response centre in Grindavík, volunteers searched throughout the night for owners of cars parked at the start of the hiking path towards the eruption, even requesting the aid of the Icelandic Coast Guard’s helicopter. Around six this morning, most of the search efforts were finished but one abandoned car in the area still worried authorities. Luckily, its owner was located around 10 am this morning, safe and sound.

Dozens of people have been helped since yesterday afternoon. Many of those who needed help were fatigued after a long hike, there have been some minor accidents and a few people have gotten lost. One was transported to the hospital in Reykjavík by ambulance. Ice-SAR urges people to stay away from the eruption site during the night and to watch the weather forecast and police updates carefully.

A yellow weather alert is in place for the Reykjanes peninsula, including the eruption site. There’s no weather for travelling, and heavy winds in the forecast with gusts of wind up to 30 m/s, sleet or snow and low visibility. The area will stay closed until the Reykjane police issues a notice ending the closure.

The Reykjanes Peninsula police, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response and local search-and-rescue teams are currently working on ways to secure the area and the paths to and from it in order to allow safe access once the weather gets better.

COVID-19 in Iceland: 21 New Domestic Cases Over the Weekend

COVID-19 test tubes

Iceland reported 21 new domestic COVID-19 cases over the weekend. Among those infected are 10 crew members of a cargo ship that has docked in Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland. Five to six of the remaining cases were not in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. Már Kristjánsson, Head of the Infectious Diseases Ward at the National University Hospital, told RÚV it was too early to say whether a fourth wave of infection had begun in the country but the cases were “a matter of grave concern.”

Már stated that the viral samples from the infected individuals had yet to be sequenced so it was not known what variant of the virus was responsible for the cases. Whether the cases mark the beginning of a new wave of infection “depends a bit on the progression today and tomorrow. A great lot of people are going into quarantine and testing. It will become clear in the next day or two.”

One of those infected is a teacher at Laugarnesskóli in Reykjavík. Four of the school’s staff members and around 80 students have been sent to testing and are in quarantine until results are available. Members of the football teams Stjarnan and Fylkir are also in quarantine in connection with one of the cases.

Health authorities will hold an information briefing about the outbreak today at 11.00am UTC. Iceland Review will live-tweet the briefing at this link.