Poland stokes Central European food fight

By bne IntelliNews April 9, 2013

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Beset by scandals and surrounded by a growing paranoia, the Polish food industry is to receive increasingly large volumes of funding to promote its exports, local press reports. Meanwhile, the Polish embassy in Prague blamed a growing food fight with the Czech Republic on protectionism.

Polish organizations have already spent €63m on campaigns promoting Polish food exports via 21 such programs, and more is to follow, reports Warsaw Business Journal. The European Commission is due to announce the distribution of further food promotion funds on April 10. According to Rzeczpospolita, the Union of Producers and Employers of the Meat Industry is likely to receive money for the promotion of Polish beef and pork in South Korea, Vietnam and the US.

Piotr Kondraciuk from the Agricultural Market Agency told Rzeczpospolita that Polish organizations are constantly increasing their marketing activity, and that their share in funds obtained from the EU grew from 8% in 2011 to 11% in 2012.

Some producers have proposed that part of the money should be spent on promoting a generally positive image of Polish foodstuffs in potential export markets. As bne reported, an unnamed official told Gazeta Wyborcza late last month that Poland suspects the Slovak and Czech authorities of running a "black PR campaign" against Polish food.

That accusation was made more concrete on April 8, when the Polish Embassy in Prague complained in an official statement handed to the media that criticism of the quality of Polish food products in the Czech Republic is driven by protectionism.

Polish food products are becoming more competitive on the Czech market, endangering the interests of local producers, the Polish diplomats said, according to CTK. They added that Czech food producers and lobbyists admit openly that they are not able to compete with Polish producers, and that they are waging an unfair struggle against them.

According to data from the Czech State Agriculture and Food Inspectorate, products of Polish origin accounted for 24.1% of food that failed to pass quality tests in 2012, while just 14.5% of the total was of domestic origin. The percentage of Polish products failing the test was the highest of all countries importing food to the country, the inspection has said.

Jan Zacek, a spokesman for the Czech agricultural ministry, dismissed the Polish claims. "Europe is an open market, so the Agriculture Ministry in no case follows the origin of food products but only their quality," he insisted. "We want only quality food products to be on the Czech market regardless of the country of their origin."

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 previously, 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 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 well 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 insisted that food exports have become a Polish speciality, 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 to €11.7bn in 2008, it explains, adding that "local [Czech and Slovak] manufacturers cannot cope with [the Polish] competition."

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