Robbie Andrew

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Om at vi må utnytte Norges gress

"Norway must make use of its resources in a way that secures sufficient food production."

"Å la være å utnytte de ressursene vi har, ville vært galskap."

"Drøvtyggere kan utnytte grasressurser ingen andre kan bruke."

"De naturgitte ressursene som kan anvendes til matproduksjon, i hele landet, må nyttes til nettopp dette.

It's often argued that Norway 'must' have sheep and cattle, because otherwise we're not using our extensive grass resources. The basis of this argument is that this grass area cannot be used to produce any other food because of terrain, climate and soil constraints.

Given that nothing more nutritious than grass can grow in these vast areas, and the only way to convert grass to human food is via the stomachs of ruminant animals, we must have ruminant animals.

This logic was certainly true a hundred years ago, and Norwegians would not have survived in this country without livestock to convert grass to highly nutritious meat and dairy products.

But is it still true? Obviously Norway can import food, but should it? What does that mean for food security?

Norge importerer masse protein til å fôre husdyr

In 2017, about 60% of ingredients used in the feed concentrate fed to Norwegian livestock were produced in Norway. But while that applies to the total, the protein component is heavily dependent on imported ingredients such as soy, rapeseed, and maize (see the light blue area in the figure below).

(The data split between imported and domestically produced vitamins and minerals has been incorrect in some years, and is expected to be about half and half, with limestone being produced in Norway.)

Protein is the ingredient that has increased the most in Norwegian livestock feed, and this growth is primarily from rapeseed pellets, while the soya content has been largely stable in recent years. Fish protein has declined considerably.

It's unfortunate that these data start in 2001, since that year marks the end of the growth in the use of soy for livestock.

These protein sources are not 100% protein. Of the three most important protein sources, maize gluten is 60% protein, soy meal 46%, and rapeseed meal 35% (source).

That means that in 2017, of the 446 thousand tonnes of protein sources fed to livestock, about 188 thousand tonnes was actually protein.

If we divide this by the number of people in Norway, then that's equivalent to 99 grams of protein per person per day, just from the specific protein ingredients in kraftfôr. About 95% of this protein is imported, giving about 94 grams.

A minimum of 20% of the carbohydrates are also imported, and they have perhaps 12% average protein content, adding 18 grams of imported protein in a year of good Norwegian grain production. So about 112 grams of imported protein per person per day is fed to Norwegian livestock.

We can now compare this with how much protein Norwegians actually eat, specifically protein from animal livestock sources.

According to Helsedirektoratet, Norwegians eat an average of 79 grams of protein per person per day (net), of which about 56% is from animal livestock (meat, eggs, milk and milk products, but excluding fish).

That means we obtain about 44 grams of protein per person per day from animal products, excluding fish, while we feed about 112 grams of imported protein (in addition to lots of Norwegian grass and grain) to livestock per person per day. Put another way, for every 100g of protein derived from livestock, about 250g of plant protein was imported to feed those livestock.

[Some of those 44g come from imported meats and cheeses, but similarly some of the meat production is exported. These are both small and likely to almost cancel each other out. There is also an 'other' food category, which may supply a little additional livestock-derived protein.]

According to Felleskjøpet, feed for dairy cows has a higher proportion of imported protein than the feed for pigs and poultry. Feed for dairy cows is 19–27% imported soy and rapeseed by mass. This compares to less than 15% for pigs, 12–17% for laying hens, and 21–23% for broilers.

The reason for such high protein levels in the feed of dairy cows is precisely to increase production of milk. According to Harald Volden, an adviser at Tine, relying only on Norwegian protein sources (mainly grass) would lead to a decline of milk production per cow by 15–20%.

In essence the logic is as follows: Norway should be as self-sufficient in protein production as possible, but because much of the land can produce no more than grass, and because only ruminants like sheep and cattle can turn that grass into protein, we must have lots of sheep and cattle. Once we agree that we should have sheep and cattle, we should increase their productivity by importing large amounts of protein from overseas. Increasing their productivity, particularly dairy cattle, means we don't need as many of them. In the process we've forgotten that the point of having sheep and cattle was to be self-sufficient in protein.

Meanwhile, the plant protein that Norway can produce, largely grains, is mostly fed to livestock.

Has Norway decided that it is acceptable to rely on imported protein (and other critical components of nutrition) or not?

There are other arguments for having sheep and cattle in Norway, including the strong desires to (1) maintain the cultural landscape, (2) maintain regional employment in traditional activities, (3) consume meat and dairy products. These seem like perfectly reasonable arguments, without needing to add in additional, spurious ones.

While there remain reasonable arguments for maintaining sheep and cattle production in Norway, there are also reasonable arguments against it, including the need to address climate change. It is the role of government to balance these conflicting policy areas.

Så hva er matsikkerhet, egentlig?

In Norway we tend to measure food security by turning to selvforsyningsgrad: our degree of self-sufficiency. This measure tells us what proportion of the calories we consume are supplied domestically rather than imported. It's not high: under 50%.

But what does this really tell us? Does it say that Norway would starve in a crisis?

Firstly, the degree of self-sufficiency is actually considerably lower if we take account of imported feed, dropping by roughly 9 percentage points.

Secondly, a number of the foods Norway imports could scarcely be considered necessities, particularly if it came to crisis: mangoes, chocolates, rice, sugary soda drinks. Norsk Landbrukssamvirke describes this well.

Klimatiltak i jordbruk

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Framtidas kyr vil kanskje spise fôr som er designet for å danne mindre metan.Learn more »

Solution to the Entire Problem?

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Talk of greatly expanding the role of ruminants to solve climate change is misplaced.Learn more »

Norway's agricultural emissions

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Norway's agricultural emissions have declined, but the reasons are interesting.Learn more »

Background on Norwegian agriculture

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A collection of semi-related thoughts and charts on the theme of sustainability in Norwegian agriculture.Learn more »

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