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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » June 30, 2011
Polska...tastes good!
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Fruit and Vegetables Risk-Free
June 30, 2011   
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Food sold in Poland is constantly monitored by several different institutions; among other things, they check whether European Union quality requirements for fresh fruit and vegetables are enforced.

The panic caused by the EHEC bacteria in Germany and unconfirmed reports about the sources of the deadly infection has led to a significant drop in the sales of foodstuffs and especially vegetables in many countries of Europe. The crisis has also affected Polish farmers, who estimate their losses at more than zl.100 million. It did not even help that Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki repeated many times that Polish fruit and vegetables were healthy and safe and were being checked by Poland’s inspection services on a continuous basis. The institutions whose task is to make sure that food sold to Polish consumers is safe are: the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate, the Trade Inspectorate, as well as the Agricultural and Food Quality Inspection, the Veterinary Inspection, and Main Inspectorate of Plant Health and Seed Inspection, which are overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Among other things, they monitor whether fresh fruit and vegetables fulfill Polish and EU quality requirements.

The aim of defining marketing quality standards for fresh fruit and vegetables for direct consumption is to help eliminate products of poor quality from the market. Also, the availability of products of different quality, that is belonging to different quality classes, helps increase competitiveness and enables farmers to get better prices for higher-quality produce, which improves production profitability.

The first quality standards applied to fresh fruit and vegetables sold within the European Community were developed in the 1960s, on the basis of earlier initiatives by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE). For almost 60 years, experts from 56 countries meeting regularly in the Specialized Section on Standardization of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables of the UN/ECE Working Party on Agricultural Quality Standards have been setting down and modifying marketing standards for various fruit and vegetables in accordance with the expectations of producers, traders and consumers on international markets. Though these standards are not obligatory, they are used or serve as the basis for national standards in many countries.

Up to June 30, 2009, under the regulations of the Common Organization of Agricultural Markets, the EU had separate regulations setting down the requirements for 36 products from the fruit and vegetable sector. These standards defined the minimal requirements for a product to be able to be traded on the market - it had to be whole, healthy, clean, free of disease and pests, properly ripe, and also fulfill more detailed requirements regarding quality, size, shape, presentation and packaging labels. Depending on what kind of defects, serious or less so, were present, such as cuts, bruises, stains on the peel or misshaping, products were placed in one of two or three quality classes.

These standards applied to watermelons, avocados, eggplants, Brussels sprouts, peaches and nectarines, onions, zucchini, chicory, sweet and sour cherries, garlic, beans, peas in pods, pears, apples, cauliflowers, cabbage, artichokes, kiwi fruit, carrots, melons, apricots, cucumbers, hazelnuts, walnuts, citrus fruits, bell peppers, button mushrooms, tomatoes, leeks, lettuce and endive, celery, asparagus, spinach, plums, strawberries and table grapes.

As part of its reform of the fruit sector, the European Commission decided to reduce the number of detailed marketing standards from 36 to 10 for the main and important products being traded within and outside the EU. At the same time, a new General Marketing Standard was introduced for all the other products. The new regulations have been in force as of July 1, 2009.

Detailed standards are in place for the following fresh fruit and vegetables: apples, citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, table grapes, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, lettuce including endive (including curly endive and broad-leaved endive), bell peppers, tomatoes. These standards contain detailed requirements divided into six sections setting down the regulations as to quality, size, acceptable tolerance, presentation and labeling of the different products. Lists of varieties are attached to the standards for apples, pears and table grapes. As in the case of the general standard, the packaging has to feature the name of the product’s country of origin.

The general marketing standard, on the other hand, encompasses all the species from the fruit and vegetable sector not included in the detailed standards. If a seller of fresh fruit and vegetables subject to the general standard is able to prove their compatibility with any binding standard adopted by the UN/ECE, such fruit and vegetables can be recognized as meeting the general marketing standard. The GMS specifies the minimal requirements of quality and ripeness without any division into classes, and its aim is to make sure that produce on the market is healthy, properly ripe and of adequate marketing quality.

Based on a European Commission regulation from 2007, EU member countries are obliged to conduct inspections of fresh fruit and vegetables at all stages of market trade, i.e. to control imports from third countries, to control exports to third countries and to control products on the community market. To fulfill these tasks, each member country establishes its own inspection services.

In Poland, based on the law on the organization of fruit and vegetable markets, the hops market, the tobacco market and the dried fodder market, the task of monitoring the marketing quality of fresh fruit and vegetables as required by EU regulations has been entrusted to the Agricultural and Food Quality Inspection (IJHARS). This body conducts inspections checking compliance with the fresh fruit and vegetable marketing standards on the internal market, at the point of export, at the point of import, and also runs a database of traders bringing fresh fruit and vegetables to the market. IJHARS inspections check compliance with the requirements of the detailed marketing standards and the general standard.
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