Icelandic Lamb Receives Protected Designation of Origin Within EU

lambakjöt lamb Páll Stefánsson

The European Commission approved the first ever Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) from Iceland today for Icelandic lamb (ice. Íslenskt lambakjöt). The product name is applied to the meat from purebred Icelandic lambs, which have been born, raised, and slaughtered on the island of Iceland. The designation is the same type granted to champagne, and means that no product that does not fulfil the above conditions can be labelled as Icelandic lamb.

“Sheep farming has a long and rich cultural tradition in Iceland,” a notice from the European Commission reads. “The characteristics of ‘Íslenskt lambakjöt’ first and foremost consists [sic] of a high degree of tenderness and gamey taste, due to the fact that lambs roam freely in demarcated wild rangelands and grow in the wild, natural surroundings of Iceland, where they feed on grass and other plants. The long tradition of sheep farming passing down generations on the island has led to high standards of flock management and grazing methods.”

Sheep farming in Iceland stretches back over one millennium, to the settlement period. The number of sheep in the country peaked in 1978 at over 890,000, but dropped to 432,780 in 2018, the lowest number recorded since 1948. Consumption of lamb has dropped significantly in Iceland since the early 1980s but has remained relatively steady in recent years, at around 20 kilos per inhabitant per year. Icelandic lamb has also been exported to new markets in recent years, including China. The newly-bestowed Protected Designation of Origin may help Icelandic lamb on foreign markets in the coming years.

Icelandic lamb holds a similar protected designation within Iceland, as do hand-knitted Icelandic sweaters and perhaps soon, Icelandic whisky.

Iceland Ranked Fifth Globally for Digital Public Services and Infrastructure

Iceland is among the top five nations in the world when it comes to digital public services and infrastructure. According to the United Nations’ annual digital government assessment, the eGovernment Development Index, Iceland is ranked fifth globally, out of 193 countries. This is up from the nation’s twelfth place ranking in 2020.

Denmark came in first place in the rankings, followed by Finland, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and then Iceland in fifth. The remaining top ten nations are: Sweden (sixth place), Australia (7), Estonia (8), The Netherlands (9), and the United States (10).

The UN’s bases its assessment on three main areas and indexes: digital services (Online Service Index); ingenuity (Human Capital Index); and technical infrastructure (Telecommunication Infrastructure Index). Iceland ranked particularly high in both ingenuity and technical infrastructure. The Icelandic government has made digitizing services a particular priority this term, with the goal of making all applicable applications, payments, and receipts for services accessible online.

Screenshot via island.is

“The government has set itself the goal of Iceland becoming a leader in digital public services, and surveys show that good progress is being made,” reads an announcement about the rankings on the government’s website. “Digital services are already simplifying people’s lives—saving time while improving service.”

The announcement also points to the European Commission’s eGovernment Benchmark 2022, in which Iceland ranked fourth amongst the 27 EU member states, as well as Norway, Switzerland, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey. The Benchmark compares how governments across Europe deliver digital public services by asking citizens from the participating countries to visit and evaluate local websites. Iceland rose three places in this assessment since 2021.

See the full rankings and Iceland’s full eGovernment Development assessment, in English, here.

Greece Cheesed Off About Icelandic Feta

MS Iceland Dairies will no longer be selling cheese branded as ‘feta,’ following a complaint made to the European Parliament by Greek MP Emmanouil Fragkos, RÚV reports. Greece holds protected designation of origin (PDO) rights to feta, meaning that it is the only country in Europe that can claim to sell this product.

In April, Emmanouil Fragkos made a formal request to the European Parliament that MS Dairies stop branding various cheese products as feta. He noted that feta is a specific, local Greek speciality; to carry the name feta, a cheese must be made from Greek goat or sheep’s milk, grazing along Greek rivers, and that there are already various regulations in place that dictate that similar kinds of cheese produced elsewhere cannot be called ‘feta.’ (Vermouth, champagne, stilton cheese, and prosciutto di Parma are all examples of famous beverages and foodstuffs that have PDO protection.)

PDO is one of the EU’s “quality schemes,” which aim “at protecting the names of specific products to promote their unique characteristics, linked to their geographical origin as well as traditional know-how,” explains the European Commission website. “Recognised as intellectual property, geographical indications play an increasingly important role in trade negotiations between the EU and other countries.” Iceland is not a member of the EU, but it is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), which means that it is subject to “the laws of the single market (except for agriculture and fisheries laws).” Indeed, Iceland entered into an agreement with the European Union regarding PDO protections on May 1, 2016, and the European Commission recognized this when responding to Fragkos’ complaint.

MS Dairies sells numerous products branded as feta, including whole blocks of crumbly, white cheese and oil-marinated jars of salty white cheese curds, all of which resemble the Greek speciality. (MS Dairies also sells ‘Greek yoghurt’ but this wasn’t a subject of the official complaint.)

Communications director Sunna Gunnars Marteinsdóttir says that MS intends to change the names of its products promptly. In lieu of feta, the names ‘salatostur’ (‘salad cheese’) and ‘veisluostur’ (‘party/feast cheese’) will be used.

Vouchers No Substitute for Reimbursement, EU Says

iceland parliament

A new ruling by the European Commission may affect a parliamentary bill drafted in Iceland in April, which would allow travel companies in Iceland to offer vouchers to clients whose trips were cancelled due to coronavirus. The European Commission ruled that Danish travel companies are not allowed to offer clients vouchers as an alternative to monetary reimbursement for trips cancelled due to coronavirus, RÚV reports.

EU says “No”

As noted in an article published yesterday on DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation), the Danish parliament has discussed the possibility of allowing travel companies to offer vouchers – which would be valid for 12 or 18 months – to those clients whose trips were cancelled due to coronavirus. If clients did not use the vouchers during the time that they were valid, they would be offered monetary reimbursement. The proposal was intended to combat the liquidity crisis of travel companies during the pandemic.

The Danish parliament submitted the proposal to the European Parliament for consideration. In a press release yesterday, the EU briefly outlined the European Commission’s opposition to the proposal: “Carriers and travel companies can offer vouchers for journeys and holidays cancelled due to coronavirus. However, this offer cannot affect passengers’ and travellers’ right to opt for reimbursement instead, the European Commission has explained.”

The conclusion is predicated on the EU’s four passenger-rights regulations (regulations 261/2004, 1371/2007, 1177/2010 and 181/2011), which endow passengers with a full set of rights, whether they travel by air, rail, ship, bus, or coach.

The ruling will have interpretational value on proposed legislation in Iceland.

Proposal met with harsh criticism

In April, Minister of Tourism, Industry, and Innovation, Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, submitted a parliamentary bill that would allow travel companies to offer vouchers to those clients whose trips were cancelled due to coronavirus. The bill formed a part of the government’s action plan against the economic effects of COVID-19.

The bill met with harsh criticism. The Consumer Association of Iceland came out against the proposal, arguing that it was unacceptable to ask consumers to solve the liquidity crisis of travel companies. Supreme court attorney Vilhjálmur Þ. Á. Vilhjálmsson has stated that the bill violates Article 72 of the constitution, regarding the right of private ownership.

In an interview with Fréttablaðið today, Breki Karlsson, Director of the Consumer Association of Iceland, has stated that the EU’s ruling “must be the final nail in the coffin” of the Minister of Tourism’s bill.