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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 21, 2011
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Tickling Foreign Palates
December 21, 2011   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

Prior to Poland’s entry into the European Union, many argued that food from the “old” EU member states would flood the Polish market, but that never happened. What did happen was the opposite—consumers across the enlarged EU were increasingly attracted to Polish farm produce and foodstuffs. Poland continues to record a foreign trade surplus in the case of these products. Remarkably, this is the only group of products in which Poland has a positive foreign trade balance. There is every indication that in 2011 the surplus was record high, between 2.8 and 3 billion euros, according to preliminary data.

What has made Polish food so successful abroad is above all the rational attitude of Polish farmers and food processing businesses. Chemicals were never used in excess on Polish farms, which helped prevent soil degradation. Polish agriculture also owes its success to crop rotation, a process that the European Commission is now advocating as part of a package of legislation designed to reform the Common Agricultural Policy—but frankly, what they are proposing is just a semblance of real crop rotation.

Pre-accession funds contributed to Poland’s success considerably as well. Polish farmers and food processing businesses are resourceful and adapted to work in very tough conditions. They were able to utilize all the funds that were made available to them. That triggered faster modernization and consolidation and as a result the number of Polish farms decreased by almost 300,000. However, Poland’s farm structure improved and the number of specialized farms increased. Food processing plants have made the most of the opportunity as well, especially in the meat and dairy sectors. Plants operating in these sectors currently rank among the best in the world. What is worth mentioning is that modernization of such magnitude took place in the countries of the “old 15” back in the 1970s.

Developing sustainable agriculture, a rapidly increasing number of organic farms and state-of-the-art food processing plants are the underpinnings of Poland’s growing food exports. Raw materials of very high quality are processed in modern plants, but according to traditional, proven recipes. Taken together, this makes sure that Polish products offer the finest quality and stand out with their distinct flavor and scent. Today consumers—and there are almost 500 million of them in the EU alone—increasingly appreciate tasty and original quality food. There has been a visible backlash against fast food in favor of slow food. People are increasingly fond of the quality they can get from food made from the best raw materials and according to traditional recipes. Popular products like that include traditionally made ham—and it takes 1 kilogram of meat to obtain between 0.5 and 0.75 kg of the ready product and not the other way round, the way it is often done in mass production.

When I attend numerous fairs and exhibitions in Poland and abroad, I can see the enormous interest in Polish food. Foreign consumers say Polish ham tastes just the way ham should, eggs are eggs, and cheese is cheese instead of some cheese-like product. During the Polish presidency, we exhibited a range of Polish food products. Whether they were strawberries from the Kashubia region, apples from £±cko or the St. Martin’s scone, everybody relished in the flavors, the naturally fresh scents and the high quality. During various meetings in Poland, we also promoted the specialties of Poland’s food processing industry. Here in Poland, we have huge potential when it comes to agricultural production and we are getting better at making the most of our assets.

The number of food products to which the EU has awarded special labels to protect their unique qualities keeps rising every year. The EU list includes Polish cold meats, cheeses, natural honey varieties, meads, fish and various kinds of fruit. In this age of increasingly globalized trade and strong competition on the global market, Polish food has found its niche and is popular with buyers. Consumers usually make rational choices. In addition to being familiar with many different flavors, they are increasingly knowledgeable about the conditions in which food is produced. When I speak about the qualities of Polish food, I have no doubts as to why it keeps winning new fans.

In terms of sales volume, the biggest exports in 2011 were beef, pork, poultry meat, chocolate and chocolate products, baked and confectionery goods, smoked fish, mostly salmon, cheese and apples. Compared with the previous year, Poland’s butter exports grew over 60 percent, exports of processed and canned meat grew 58 percent, and pork exports went up 40 percent. Considering the stiff competition on the market, the growing figures are testimony to the high quality and reliability of Polish food, showing that it meets the expectations of consumers in terms of unique flavor and aroma, among other features.
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