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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » June 30, 2011
Polska… tastes good!
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About Food Safety
June 30, 2011   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

The recent dioxin scandal and the current problems with the E. coli bacterium have highlighted the importance of food quality safety. Food safety is, obviously, a much broader topic. Another question is how to ensure sufficient quantities of food. We must not forget that research and demographic forecasts indicate that three decades from now the world will have to double the volume of food production.

The commotion over the particularly toxic E. coli strain is an example of how irresponsible statements can cause chaos. Food inspection services in Germany clearly got lost in what they were doing. First, they advised the public about the E. coli threat too late and then, lacking solid and unambiguous evidence backed by research, they came forward with very serious accusations. That was a scandalous attitude and statements from German food inspection officials and some politicians triggered a panic on markets, further fueled by the media.

The above shows how important it is to feel responsible for the consequences of one’s words. Completely unjustified actions made consumers anxious and caused farmers who grow vegetables across the EU, Poland included, to incur tremendous losses. Polish farmers have been losing up to zl.10 million each day and as of June 10, the panic, combined with the Russian embargo on imports of fresh vegetables from the EU, has cost them over zl.160 million. These losses cannot be fully compensated for.

Meanwhile, Polish food—including Polish fruit and vegetables, of course—is perfectly safe. As they meet EU standards, obtain direct payments and benefit from EU aid under the Rural Development Program, Polish farmers conform with all EU requirements and norms. Food production is under supervision at all stages and it is noteworthy that Polish soils have never been overexposed to chemicals and as a result they are not degraded. Polish farmers run their farms with care for the natural environment and they respect principles of ecology. Rather than just because of agricultural and environmental norms, they do so because they love their land. It is Poland’s tradition to hand arable farms down from generation to generation, hence the urge to keep farms in the best possible shape in order to make sure that the value and quality of the land remains unchanged when the children and grandchildren take it over.

This approach ensures very high quality of the produce that farmers deliver to the market and the food processing industry. Such are the underpinnings of Poland’s success in selling food and agricultural products abroad. This is the only foreign trade segment where Poland has had a positive balance for years, and last year it totaled 2.6 billion euros. That could never happen without good produce, but agricultural products alone are, obviously, not enough. We should remember that prior to EU accession and during the first years in the EU, the Polish food and agricultural industry underwent tremendous changes. Polish meat processing plants and dairies are nowadays among the best such facilities in the world.

Poland has excellent produce, modern food processing plants fitted with state-of-the-art technology and superb recipes that have been well tried for years. Combining it all, Polish food has been increasingly successful making its way to buyers not only in the EU, but also Asia, Arab countries and America.

To further stimulate exports of Polish food and introduce Polish and foreign consumers to top quality foods, a program called Try Fine Food (PD¯) was launched several years ago. Participation in the program is voluntary and it is open to companies in EU member states. The Science Committee for Foodstuff Quality, a body made up of outstanding experts, has worked out very demanding criteria that food producers need to meet in order to be able to apply for the PD¯ quality stamp. Only food which meats the criteria can bear the stamp, as PD¯ is designed to help consumers make the right choices. The program also pursues one of the EU food policy’s objectives which seeks to improve the quality and diversity of food on the single EU market.

The PD¯ quality stamp also aims to increase consumers’ trust in food by advising them about the food’s high and stable quality. The PD¯ quality stamp is granted to products for a maximum of three years at a time, which ensures high quality and a reliable origin of the ingredients.

When I think of all this and about the efficiency of Poland’s inspection services in charge of animal- and plant-derived products, combined with the quality of marketed food and agricultural products, I am positive that produce from Poland not only tastes good and stands for high quality, but is also entirely safe for the consumer. Taking into consideration the losses which Polish food producers have incurred recently and which have by no means been their fault, I am planning to soon strengthen promotional campaigns for Polish fruit and vegetables in order to restore consumers’ confidence in them.
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