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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » September 2, 2011
Polska...tastes good!
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Safe Vegetables
September 2, 2011   
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Polish vegetables and fruit are safe and tasty—that’s the slogan of a public awareness and educational campaign called BezpieczneWarzywa.pl, launched in July by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The campaign’s goal is to restore trust in Polish vegetables and fruit after an epidemic in Germany caused by the Escherichia coli bacteria.

After the first cases of infection by verotoxic E. coli were revealed, panic led to the collapse of the market for certain vegetables throughout Europe. Initially, cucumbers were considered the source of epidemic, and their producers suffered the most. Lettuce and tomatoes were also suspected, which hit their sales. Preliminary estimations indicate that losses related to the epidemic may reach 500 million euros. One consolation is that the European Union offered compensation to the producers of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, endive, peppers and zucchini who can document their losses.

The epidemic produced bad PR for vegetables and fruit all over Europe, including Poland, even though no cases of infection due to consumption of Polish products were recorded. In Poland, isolated cases of illness have been documented, as a result of infections “imported” from Germany. Two secondary infections in households were recorded: a child who came into contact with a sick person returning from Germany, and a babysitter taking care of his brother.

Due to information received by the Main Inspectorate of Agricultural and Food Quality and to numerous press reports on the bacteria present in vegetables, the Chief Inspector decided to carry out special tests to check the commercial quality of fresh vegetables. In the first week of June, Provincial Agricultural and Food Quality Inspectorates checked vegetables throughout Poland, examining whether they carried labels marking their country of origin and whether the batches were traceable on the basis of attached documents. The inspectors visited 61 points of sale, such as hypermarkets, wholesalers, distributions centers, retail shops and bazaars, examining mainly tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, peppers and other kinds of fresh vegetables and fruit. Incorrect labeling was detected in just 6 percent of all controlled batches.

The BezpieczneWarzywa.pl campaign aims to rebuild trust in Polish vegetables and fruit. “I’d like to stress that Polish vegetables are not only tasty and healthy, but, above all, safe,” said Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki. “In the face of the recent crisis caused by the E. coli epidemic, we carried out thousands of tests and recorded no infections with the abovementioned bacteria. This proved Polish fruit and vegetables are safe. They pose no threat to consumers. On the contrary: their consumption has a positive effect on health. We all know that vegetables are a very important part of the human diet, and BezpieczneWarzywa.pl campaign aims to restore trust in consumption and stimulate demand for fresh vegetables and fruit.”

In 2010 the average Pole consumed slightly over 41 kg of fruit and fruit products. In comparison to 2002, when the figure was 49 kg, this was a drop of nearly 8 kg. Consumption of vegetables and related products experienced a similar decline—from over 64 kg in 2002 to 59 kg in 2010.

Poles eat less fruit and vegetables than other European Union residents. In terms of consumption of fresh and processed fruit, Poland is second to last in the EU. Poles are most keen on apples (15 percent) and exotic fruit (12.5 percent), including citrus fruit and bananas. As for consumption of fresh and processed vegetables, Poland is in 10th place, behind Greece, Malta and Romania. Polish consumers favor tomatoes (9 percent, cucumbers (7.5 percent), cabbage (7 percent), and carrots (6 percent).

The campaign includes the website www.bezpiecznewarzywa.pl offering information on the safety and commercial quality of vegetables and fruit, instructions on handling and consumption of fresh products, and up-to-date information on the safety and quality of vegetables and fruit.

The campaign also involves an initiative called “Time for the tomato: the irresistible taste of Polish vegetables and fruit,” launched July 22 in Warsaw in front of the Central Agricultural Library, when 1,000 red balloons symbolizing tomatoes were released into the air.

The campaign, financed by the Fund for the Promotion of Fruit and Vegetables, was launched by the Polish Federation of Agricultural Producers, with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Agricultural and Food Quality Inspection and the State Plant Health and Seed Inspection Service.
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