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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » April 30, 2014
Polska…tastes good!
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
April 30, 2014   
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The government has successfully dealt with the problem of surplus pork in areas where restrictions were introduced after two cases of African swine fever (ASF) had been found in wild boar near the Belarusian border. However, the problem of Polish pork exports remains unresolved.

Beginning April 7, Russia temporarily banned imports of Polish products containing pork. Polish pork exports to Russia have practically stopped. Processed food containing pork is just a small fraction of the exports.

Meanwhile, apart from the two cases of ASF, none of the thousands of tests that followed found any other occurrence of the disease in wild boar. What’s more, not a single worrying incident has occurred at pig farms. In other words, this is a peculiar situation where tasty and healthy Polish pork cannot be exported to many countries outside the EU, including China, Japan and, closer to Poland, Ukraine.

The European Commission has accepted our arguments and decided to reduce the restricted area to several counties in Podlasie province. I have been in constant talks with the ambassadors of China and Japan and am confident that we will gradually come to an agreement. This is particularly important as far as China is concerned, because of the size of the Chinese market. If we manage to reopen this market, Poland will be able to make up for the losses caused by the Russian embargo. We are still exporting pork to Vietnam, but this cannot compensate for the closure of the Russian market.

I would like to once again emphasize that the EU needs to re-examine the procedures it worked out after ASF broke out in Spain. Back then the virus attacked livestock, which is a completely different situation to what has been going on in Poland at present. Let me say this once again, we have only had two confirmed cases of ASF in wild boar, detected near the Belarusian border. There have been no other cases. Polish pigs are always examined and pork obtained from them is healthy, nutritious and safe.

The crisis in Ukraine and related developments in recent months have exposed some other risks as well and the EU seems to have finally grown aware of the importance of secure supplies of energy and food.

As for energy, I would like to say a word about the diversification of energy sources. There is vast, untapped potential in small biogas plants at farms. They can strengthen the competitiveness of Polish farms, improve Poland’s energy mix, and, as an important source of renewable energy, they can also help protect the environment.

The recent international political turmoil shows how important it is to ensure secure food supplies, especially because the global population will grow faster than the volume of food produced around the world. These are two crucial issues that require a whole new approach. No such approach was demonstrated during discussions on the new shape of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

This is not just about the level of funds assigned to the policy’s mechanisms. I am more concerned about how conservative this policy is. It was meant to be made simpler, more beneficiary-friendly and less bureaucratic. It was expected to seek to make European agriculture more innovative and competitive. This is not what has happened, but perhaps recent events will change this conservative attitude.

Poland has an opportunity to help make a difference now that citizens in all EU countries will be electing their deputies to the European Parliament. Hopefully those will be open-minded people who look at things from the EU perspective, while still representing their own countries. The EU has a chance to become more efficient and well organized and tackle existing challenges more effectively. But it also needs to stay open to new challenges and it needs to cut red tape and address problems much more promptly.

On May 1 Poland will be marking 10 years since it joined the EU. Our example shows that economies can be modernized fast and systematically rather than through a revolution. This is particularly evident in Polish agriculture, even though this sector is still not able to compete on a level playing field. Inequalities within the EU are being leveled out at too slow a pace, which is doing a disservice to EU agriculture as a whole. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and we should remember that. This obvious truth should be our guiding light as we make our decisions. The EU will only be strong for as long as European thinking prevails over national, particularistic interests. Let us cherish our diversity, but ensure equal opportunities. Fair competition hinges on equal opportunities and conditions. Let us keep that in mind when casting our votes for those who will be making decisions in the European Parliament during the next five years.
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