Imported Premade Sandwiches Sold Cheaper Than Icelandic Equivalents

Imported goods and food have long been a standard feature of Icelandic life, but a new product that’s made its way onto the local market is raising the hackles of some who question both its carbon footprint and its price-point. Mbl.is reports that premade sandwiches are now being shipped to Iceland from Lithuania and sold at a cheaper price than their domestically produced equivalents.

The imported sandwiches, which are sold under the brand name Food on Foot, caught the attention of Friðrik Árnason, the owner of Hótel Breiðdalsvík in East Iceland. “We import all sorts of things to Iceland, but it never occurred to me that I’d see imported premade sandwiches from Lithuania in a shop in South Iceland,” Friðrik wrote in a post on his Facebook page. “To be honest, I was disappointed to see this, thinking about the environment, carbon footprints, and sustainability. I was even more shocked when I saw that the imported sandwiches are half the price of the sandwiches that are made here, with the same ingredients. It’s a head-scratcher for me.”

The sandwiches, which are shipped frozen to Iceland, are imported by the Reykjavík-based company Danól. Managing director María Jóna Samú­els­dótt­ir provided a written response to Mbl after being contacted about the new product and said that the sandwiches are high-quality and have received a good response on the Icelandic market.

When asked how a sandwich made in and shipped all the way from Lithuania could be cheaper than a sandwich made in Iceland, María Jóna wrote: “Of course we can’t speak to other parties’ price points, but Danól has a good business relationship with the supplier, which of course, is also producing for a much larger market than the one in Iceland. And as a result, consumers here in Iceland enjoy economies of scale.”

María Jóna ended by saying that the primary purchasers of the Lithuanian sandwiches are cafés in rural areas (“often remote villages”) that “see that favorable prices, product quality, and ease of service go hand in hand.”

Icelanders Buying More Locally-Grown Christmas Trees

Christmas tree santa Iceland

Though imported trees still make up the majority of Christmas tree sales in Iceland, locally grown trees are steadily growing in popularity, Bændablaðið reports. Imported Christmas trees decreased from 37,147 to 24,441 between 2019 and 2020, while local tree sales rose from 7,225 to 8,134. More families are buying their trees from local forestry associations, where they can pick and even cut down their own trees.

Ragnhildur Freysteinsdóttir, an environmental scientist at the Icelandic Forestry Association, told RÚV that cutting down your own tree has certain advantages. “Some people may want tall and thin, or short and fat [trees]. They maybe don’t want the totally standard trees that you get at the store. So it’s an opportunity for them.”

Buying local has benefits

As Bændablaðið points out, the benefits of buying local Christmas trees are many. Purchasing one tree enables local foresters to plant dozens more, with a net positive effect on carbon storage. The Reykjavík Forestry Association (Skógræktarfélag Reykjavíkur), for example, planted 50 trees for each one sold last year. Local trees also carry a smaller carbon footprint in other ways: due to Iceland’s climate and geography, local foresters rarely use pesticides in their cultivation. Furthermore, imported trees present a risk of bringing in pests that could potentially affect Icelandic vegetation.

See Also: Húsavík Residents Vote on Town Christmas Tree

Among local trees, the most popular species is the beach pine, accounting for 62.4% of local Christmas tree sales last year. The sitka spruce comes next with 14.3% of sales, followed by red spruce at 11.4%.

‘There’s Plenty of Food’

The importation of food and goods to Iceland will continue unhindered, says the Icelandic Federation of Trade (FA). This comes per an announcement made on the Federation’s website on Friday, which aims to discourage Icelanders from hoarding food and goods while concerns about COVID-19 persist.

The announcement goes on to say that import companies in Iceland have received updates from their foreign suppliers outlining the measures being taken to ensure that there will be no interruption to the delivery of goods. Most large and medium-sized outfits have also taken internal measures to combat the spread of the virus, such as dividing their staff into different shifts so that they do not come into contact with one another and isolating the operations of different work sites. Many importers have also placed larger than usual orders for supplies that are on the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s list of desirable household supplies in the case of a flu outbreak.

Authorities’ request that Icelanders forgo stockpiling food and goods is particularly relevant in light of the recent state ban on public gatherings of more than 100 people, as crowding in grocery stores obviously makes it difficult for people to maintain more distance between one another. Following directives from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, staff members and/or employees of independent security companies will, in fact, begin monitoring the number of people entering or exiting shops and stores in order to prevent over-crowding. The number of employees working at any given time will also be monitored.

According to FA CEO Ólafur Stephensen, “the importation and supply status of essential goods is operating as per usual and so there is currently no reason to hoard goods.”

His assertion was seconded by Guðmundur Marteinsson, the CEO of the Bónus grocery store chain, in a TV interview on Thursday evening. “There are plenty of goods in the country,” he remarked. “There’s plenty of food. We don’t need to worry about this too much. We’ll take deep breaths, get through this together. The next few weeks are going to be difficult. But summer will come, and then everything will get brighter.”

 

Customs Duties on Imported Potatoes May be Suspended

Customs duties on imported potatoes will be likely be suspended from May 3 until August 11, RÚV reports. The Ministry of Industries and Innovation has temporarily lifted these duties because of a shortage of high-quality domestic potatoes. Iceland’s current potato crop suffered after a wet and cold summer last year.

Local farmers and the Icelandic Federation of Trade have been calling for a suspension of import duties for the last three weeks, saying that that even the Sales Association of Vegetable Farmers (SFG) has supported the idea. But these petitions had been denied by the Ministry of Industries’ Advisory Committee on the Import and Export of Agricultural Products, which said that duties could only be suspended in the event of a shortage of domestic product.

Per the provisions of the laws governing agricultural products, there can only be a suspension of import duties when two leading domestic distributors and two key domestic producers cannot keep up with demand. Since technically, there are enough Icelandic potatoes, the advisory committee said there shouldn’t be a suspension of customs duties. Local retailers were unhappy with this interpretation, saying that it missed the point. “We have plenty of potatoes,” Gréta María Grétarsdóttir, CEO of the Krónan supermarket chain remarked. “But the quality of Icelandic potatoes is not as good as Icelanders are accustomed to…these are not the first-class Icelandic potatoes that Icelanders are used to getting.”

After reevaluating of the situation on Tuesday, the Advisory Committee has reversed its position. The proposed suspension of customs duties was presented to domestic producers, who were given four days to respond. However, according to Ólafur Stephensen, the CEO of The Icelandic Federation of Trade, there are two Icelandic potato farmers who “are holding the potato market hostage,” so whether the suspension will actually go into effect is still an open question.

 

Shortage of ‘First Class Icelandic Potatoes’ Say Grocers

The Icelandic Federation of Trade is calling for a suspension of duties on potatoes so that potatoes grown abroad can be imported at an acceptable cost to local consumers. RÚV reports that Iceland’s current potato crop suffered after a wet and cold summer last year. As such, locally-grown potatoes are not up to their usual standard and grocers and produce importers want to see customs duties adjusted accordingly.

“We have plenty of potatoes,” Gréta María Grétarsdóttir, CEO of the Krónan supermarket chain remarked. “But the quality of Icelandic potatoes is not as good as Icelanders are accustomed to…these are not the first class Icelandic potatoes that Icelanders are used to getting.”

 

Imported potatoes “30% more expensive than they need to be”

Guðmundur Marteinsson, CEO of the Bónus supermarket chain, echoed this sentiment, telling RÚV that he finds it strange that import duties on potatoes have not been waived for the time being, given that even the Sales Association of Vegetable Farmers (SFG) has support the idea.

In an announcement on its website, the Icelandic Federation of Trade stated that the Ministry of Industries and Innovation has not complied with requests from importers to suspend custom duties. The organization says this is to the detriment of consumers because imported potatoes will be more expensive. “It isn’t possible to import potatoes unless the duties are cancelled,” said Guðmundur. “We started complaining three weeks ago.”

“When this situation arises, it often happens that customs duties are lifted,” explained Gréta María. “But not now. As such, foreign potatoes are 30% more expensive than they need to be.”

 

No Shortage of Potatoes

By law, the Advisory Committee on the Import and Export of Agricultural Products, which is part of the Ministry for Industries, submits proposals to the minister regarding suspensions of custom duties. This happens, for instance, when there is a shortage of a specific agricultural product on the domestic market. Per the provisions of the laws governing agricultural products, this can only happen when two leading distributors and two key producers cannot keep up with demand. The committee says, however, that no such shortage exists. The situation is being closely monitored, they say, and new data on the local potato crop will be obtained on April 23.

“It’s very strange because SFG’s largest retailer has sent a letter to the committee in which it urges for tolls to be cancelled because there are not enough potatoes of an acceptable quality,” said Guðmundur. “There aren’t enough, but there are some. We’re scraping together what we can for the weekend,” he said, referring to the Easter holiday this week. “That’s where we’re at.”

Ólafur Stephensen, the CEO of The Icelandic Federation of Trade, had stronger words for the committee. “Saying that there’s no impending shortage is preposterous,” he wrote in the published announcement. “And it means that importers are losing the precious time it takes to order and bring into the country products that meet consumer demand.”

Importers Sue Icelandic Government

Five import companies are calling on the Icelandic government to reimburse them for import tariffs they paid on agricultural products, Fréttablaðið reports. The companies are claiming ISK 3 billion ($28m/€24m) in reimbursements, and an additional ISK 1 billion ($9m/€8m) in interest payments.

Páll Rúnar M. Kristjánsson, supreme court judge and lawyer for the Icelandic Federation of Trade, is representing the companies. The lawyer has won similar cases against the government in recent years for members of the Icelandic Federation of Trade. He says the bill will continue to grow as long as the government keeps collecting the illegal tariffs. Iceland’s system of giving ministers the power to impose taxes in the form of import tariffs is unconstitutional, Páll says. He hopes to receive a ruling in the District Court of Reykjavík before the end of the year.

Ólafur Stephensen, Secretary General of the Icelandic Federation of Trade, says it’s both illegal and unwise to assign ministers the power to decide on agricultural import tariffs. They can have a doubly negative effect on the consumer, he asserts, both by raising the prices of imported products, and making it possible for domestic producers to sell their products at higher prices. “If it were generally justified to protect domestic production with tariffs then that production would have to meet demand. Here there are import tariffs on many types of food products that are not even produced in Iceland. One has to ask what interests are being protected by that,” Ólafur stated.

Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Reform Party Chairperson and former Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, says the lawsuit is a sign that it is time to switch up the system. “There is a pressing need to re-evaluate the agricultural industry and nobody needs to be afraid of that,” Þorgerður Katrín stated. “It’s possible to support farmers in other ways than protecting them with import tariffs.” The politician called protective tariffs “an old-fashioned approach,” saying her party supports a free and open market.

Kennel Club Urges Shorter Quarantine for Imported Pets

The Icelandic Kennel Club is calling for a reconsideration of current laws regarding the quarantine of domestic pets that are brought into the country, RÚV reports. Herdís Hallmarsdóttir, the kennel club chair, says that the original rationale for such a lengthy quarantine does not hold up to current research and laws in other countries with similar ecosystems.

Currently, pet dogs being brought into Iceland must be quarantined for four weeks. This time period was based on arguments long maintained by Icelandic scientists, namely that foreign domestic pets introduce parasites into the Icelandic animal population and a four-week quarantine is necessary to discover and eradicate these pests. At the request of the Minister of Agriculture, a foreign veterinarian began a risk assessment in relation to the quarantine of dogs and cats last fall. This assessment was expected to be completed by April, but as of yet, remains unfinished.

In an interview on a Rás 2 radio program on Thursday morning, Herdís said that the Icelandic Kennel Club is awaiting the results of this assessment with interest and in the meantime, has familiarized themselves with the rules that are in place for pet importation in other countries. “We know that there is a very sensitive ecosystem in New Zealand,” she remarked. “We know that’s a country that’s very similar to Iceland. Six years ago, they decided to reduce the quarantine period down to ten days with vaccinations and requirements for treatment that the dogs need to undergo before they come to the country.”

Herdís also points out that pet owners in New Zealand are allowed to visit their animals while they are in quarantine, a possibility she wants to have considered in Iceland as well.

“What we want is a reassessment of these regulations,” she said. “The last evaluation was in 2003 and much has changed since then. If quarantine is necessary, it’s imperative that it be organized such that the animal is as comfortable as possible.”

Policy Needed to Combat Invasive Plant Species

Foreign plant seeds and pests that are brought into Iceland can cause damage to the Icelandic ecosystem. Plant ecologist Kristín Svavarsdóttir told RÚV that the government needs to develop a strategy to combat invasive species and is particularly concerned about seeds that are inadvertently brought into the country in imported soil.

Kristín says that this problem of invasive species dispersing around areas where soil importation is highest—i.e. cities and towns where there’s a lot of agriculture—is well-known in other countries and it’s the job of the Ministry of the Environment to create a policy to combat this phenomenon in Iceland. “This is classified as one of the largest environmental issues in the world, but we’ve completely ignored it,” she remarked.

The debate always revolves around individual species, Kristín continued, but she believes that the focus should be much broader. “Of course, we need to look at individual species but we also need to set rules and working methods both regarding how we’re going to prevent this and [how to] be aware of what species we’re bringing in—that’s to say intentionally, although of course there will also be species coming in unintentionally, in soil for instance. We’re kind of just letting things happen. It’s carelessness, pure and simple.”