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‘Banana Republic’ Iceland?

Forgive me for smelling a rat here, but the latest news out of Iceland regarding the now infamous whale beer strikes me as highly suspicious. Banned only a fortnight ago on food safety grounds, we learn of a sudden U-turn permitting the beer to go on sale – conveniently just in time for the midwinter festival of Thorrablot which started Friday – pending further investigations following a complaint filed by the Steðjar brewery.  It is difficult to see how a product banned by public health experts because Hvalur lacks a licence to sell ground-up whale bones for human consumption, suddenly passes muster.  Can it possibly have anything to do with Hvalur boss, Kristjan Loftsson, giving the pot an extra stir here and leaning on a pro-whaling government to allow his product onto the shelves after all?

In a show of solidarity for Loftsson’s brew, former Minister of Fisheries, Einar K. Guðfinnsson (the man who increased the whaling quota in 2008) posted a photo showing him eating traditional Thorrablot fare and drinking “…the long-awaited whale beer”.

Certainly Loftsson will not at all have liked the massive negative publicity the story has provoked around the globe – with many Icelanders themselves commenting on social media that they do not like the sound of a beer which even the brewer himself describes as tasting ‘fishy’.

Rannveig Grétarsdóttir, general manager of the Elding Whale Watch company in Reykjavik summed it up beautifully when she posted: “If this isn’t preferential treatment and corruption then I don’t know what is. Who else than Kristján Loftsson gets the Minister of Fisheries to allow the sales of a product that the Public Health Authority has banned. This is Banana Republic Iceland in a nutshell. In the report they forgot to mention that the beer is produced in collaboration with Hvalur Inc.”

Happily, a recent poll suggests that a growing  number of Icelanders are in favour of their country joining the EU.  If this trend continues, those who profit from killing whales will definitely be crying into their beer.