Poland accuses neighbours of sneaky food fight

By bne IntelliNews March 28, 2013

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Poland suspects Slovak and Czech authorities of running a "black PR campaign" against Polish food, an unnamed government source in Warsaw said on March 27.

Speaking anonymously to Gazeta Wyborcza, the official claimed the two neighbours are publicly stressing that the quality of "an overwhelmingly large part" of Polish food is very low. A Czech chief hygiene inspector has even told a television programme that he "wouldn't buy Polish food" at all, the complaint continued.

Warsaw has exhibited no little paranoia over the last few months as it has become embroiled in more than one scandal over food safety. The latest instance was the European horse meat hullabaloo, with Poland furiously rejecting claims in the German press that it was a font of the unlabeled meat that cropped up all around the continent in the last six weeks.

The Poles were clearly incensed when the Czech regulator announced that it had found horse meat in beef burgers imported from Poland. However, a year ago Warsaw reacted with anything but shame when it discovered that road salt had been sold to numerous food producers. Prague banned Polish salt imports in March 2012, followed by a range of other food products, after it emerged that a criminal ring had sold road salt to bakeries and meat-processing plants. The incident did little to promote relations across the garden fence, with the Poles jealously guarding their food producers, even insisting that road salt is not harmful for humans to consume.

Six months later the boot was on the other foot, as Czech alcohol was banned across the region due to dozens of deaths as a result of drinking fake spirits tainted with methanol. Although Prague halted exports to Poland and Slovakia itself, Warsaw and Bratislava maintained their own bans long after the Czechs implemented a new system to control quality, in a move analysts suggested could be motivated more by opportunist protectionism than public health concerns.

In the same vein, Gazeta Wyborcza insists that food exports have become a Polish specialty, and claims that the country's neighbours are acting in a bid to protect their own companies, rather than protecting public health. In 2012, Poland's food product exports were worth €17bn, compared with €11.7bn in 2008, it explains, adding that "local [Czech and Slovak] manufacturers cannot cope with [the Polish] competition."

As a consequence, only 42% of food sold in Slovakia is produced in Poland, the paper complains. The "food war" was set to be one of the main topics of Polish-Slovak consultations held on March 27 in Slovakia, it noted.

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