A New Swedish Model: Safe, Clean Food

By Croall, Stephen | Scandinavian Review, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

A New Swedish Model: Safe, Clean Food


Croall, Stephen, Scandinavian Review


In Sweden, public consciousness about the connection between animal and human health in the food chain was rudely awakened as early as 1953. A salmonella epidemic thought to have originated in a slaughterhouse killed almost 100 people. Shocked, the authorities clamped down and in 1961 passed detailed new laws designed to prevent salmonella from spreading to humans. Mainly as a result of this early start, Sweden is today able to produce chicken, eggs, pork and beef that are virtually salmonella-free.

It was not until the 1980s, however, that environmental issues in general - ecological food production among them - became a major focus of attention in Swedish society. People began to discuss not only the health aspects of food products but also the ways in which they were produced. Interest grew in the ecological and ethical aspects of Swedish agriculture - what condition was farmland in and how were farm animals being treated?

At the beginning of the decade, ecological farmers were few and far between. There was virtually no coordination of supplies, and these were largely restricted to flour, potatoes and vegetables. Most produce was sold directly from farmers to consumers on a local basis, often through channels set up by the consumers themselves or through health food stores. The major food chains showed little interest in such products. The few regular grocery shops that stocked ecologically grown produce tended to put it in a corner without any advertising, almost as a curiosity.

Growth of the Ecological Market

Consumer interest steadily grew, however, and market conditions started to change. Growers began to organize and major retailers and food manufacturers, unused to dealing With numerous small suppliers, pressed for a whole new distribution system for ecological products. The first of three nationwide ecological producer cooperatives was established, Samodlarna, specializing in fruit, vegetables and potatoes. It was followed (in the early 1990s) by Eco Trade, specializing in grain and oilseeds, and Ekokott, which coordinated and developed marketing channels for ecological meat.

But how were consumers to know that the produce was in fact ecological? And what exactly did "ecological" mean? There was considerable confusion on both counts until the establishment in 1985 of

KRAV, an inspection body for certification accredited to both the Swedish Board of Agriculture and the National Food Administration. Together with that of the much smaller Demeter, a certifying body for biodynamic farmers, the green KRAV label soon became synonymous with clean, safe, ecologically grown food in Sweden. Basically, the purpose of KRAV and Demeter inspection and certification is to ensure the credibility of ecological produce and guarantee ecological products throughout the food chain from farmer to consumer.

KRAV, which today claims to be the biggest certifying organization of its kind in the world, defines ecological products generally speaking as those that have been produced without the use of aids like chemical fertilizer or pesticides, or in the case of poultry, meat and eggs, etc, without the use of antibiotics, hormones and the like by livestock farmers. Feed must be ecologically grown and farm animals must be properly treated.

Nowadays, the organization and its label are so widely accepted that most Swedes no longer refer to "organic food" or "ecological food" but simply to "KRAV food."

Animal Welfare in Focus

As ecological awareness grew in the 1980s, animal welfare in food production also attracted increasing attention. The debate focused on large-scale husbandry methods that led to sick and stressed animals, particularly pigs and battery hens, and brutal handling in connection with transports and slaughter. The fact that many cows were being kept indoors all year round came as a surprise to the general public and helped fuel the animal rights debate, which was led by Astrid Lindgren, the well-known and highly popular author of children's books. …

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