Every year, scores of dairy farmers are given a gold medal by the Swedish king for delivering "top quality milk" for "at least 23 years," at an event organised by the Federation of Swedish Farmers. This year, 39 farmers from all around the country had travelled to the capital to receive their award, and be treated to a banquet and nights at a hotel.
At the ceremony, in the presence of the King and Queen of Sweden, the Minister for Public Administration Ardalan Shekarabi said Swedish farmers for too long had been subjected to "unjust treatment" and "discrimination" when it comes to public-sector food purchases.
Swedish farmers have long complained that stricter animal welfare laws in Sweden mean that their costs are higher than food produced under different conditions abroad. And while the farmers' organisations say they have nothing against the stricter laws, they point out that this is often undermined by Swedish public bodies - such as municipalities buying food for example for schools and elderly care homes - that tend to buy the cheaper, foreign food.
Now minister Ardalan Shekarabi, who is in charge of policies on public purchases, said that he can imagine to introduce laws that force public bodies to not discriminate against the Swedish farmers.
It is enough now!"
His words caused several attendees to raise their eyebrows. One of them was Palle Borgström, chairman of the dairy delegation at the Federation of Swedish Farmers.
It is not very often you hear a minister saying something like that, so that was quite strong words. But it gives us a picture of a wake-up from the politicians."
Borgström noted that there has been "a shift in the political debate." A few years ago there was much talk about the environmental problems in the agriculture sector. But now there is an increasing interest in the way food is produced, and the quality of food, he said.
"We had a very special political debate, some 3-4 years ago in Sweden, where politicians only looked at agriculture as a problem, but now they see it more as an opportunity," he said. But he added that "we are still waiting for the politicians to do what they say."
One of the farmers who received a gold medal on Monday was Elizabeth Rydström, who runs a small dairy farm near Stockholm together with her husband. She was pleased when she heard the tone from the minister.
If he really means what he says, then it is positive, very positive!"