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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » September 29, 2014
Polska…tastes good!
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD
September 29, 2014   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

The Russian embargo on selected Polish fruit and vegetables is still in effect. The European Commission addressed the issue a little late, an unfortunate consequence of the vacations that EU officials usually take in August. The kind of compensation that the Commission eventually proposed Aug. 22 is disadvantageous to Poland, because the 125 million euros on the table is absolutely insufficient. Another downside is that the exceptional support measures are divided into compensation for apples and pears and that for other kinds of fruit.

What Poland is also objecting to is that unaffiliated farmers will only receive half of the full compensation rate. This is in stark contrast to the Escherichia coli crisis from 2011, when no such differentiation was made between farmers and countries and the terms of the compensation were identical for all.*

I presented Poland’s arguments to the EU Council of Ministers responsible for agriculture and fisheries during a special session called Sept. 5 and requested by me. The way I had done at a meeting of the Weimar Triangle,** I cited concrete data to illustrate the magnitude of the problem.

The other ministers understood my arguments and during the special meeting, they deemed it legitimate to ensure equal treatment for members of producer associations and for unaffiliated producers, which I had pressed for from the beginning.

Consequently, Poland will ask the European Commission to immediately modify regulation 932/2014 on exceptional support measures for fruit and vegetable producers.

After all, the current crisis on agricultural markets has not been caused by farmers, but by politics. This is a far-reaching crisis that affects many sectors of the economy and as such, it necessitates higher funds, not only those reserved for agriculture. Relying on data from member states, the European Commission is also entitled to alter the aforementioned regulation so it takes into account the requested amount of compensation.

Prior to the special meeting, I spoke to Tonio Borg, the EU health commissioner. I remarked to him that the ban on exports of food and agricultural products to the Russian Federation hit Poland the most of all EU member states. I called on him to take multipronged measures to prevent significant disturbance on the basic agricultural markets in the EU. I added that it was necessary to increase the amount of assistance and cancel the discriminatory rules on access to the assistance for unaffiliated producers. We also spoke about phytosanitary certification, which I believe should be standardized at the EU level so that products could be placed on external markets within a shorter time.

The next issue I discussed with Commissioner Borg was streamlining work on introducing derogation for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)*** and conditions on which farms should be allowed to process food themselves. Commissioner Borg assured me that the planned regulation on PAH, scheduled to appear in November, would be retroactive, which is to say that the derogation will be in effect as of Sept. 1 this year. This is certainly good news for all producers of traditional food, especially of delicious Polish cold meats, and also pertains to regulations that the Agriculture Ministry has been working on with regards to conditions on which farms will be allowed to process food. Traditional food has been produced at Polish farms for generations and we would like Polish farmers to enjoy the same terms as farmers in Austria, for example. That way farmers would be presented with an opportunity to cultivate family traditions of making sausages, fruit preserves, cheeses and so on. Consumers, in turn, would be able to connect with producers and choose those whose products suited their tastes best. This is also a remarkable promotional opportunity for regions and local communities, which, coupled with the steadily growing network of farms with accommodation and services for tourists, will start forming a coherent whole.

I have mentioned Austria and its example shows that products of this kind are hugely popular not only in local communities, but also among visitors. I am convinced that such regulations could come into force by the end of this year and be a comprehensive solution to problems related to food production and direct sales at individual farms.

Another issue that the Agriculture Ministry has been working on is a bill on setting up a Mutual Assistance Fund for Stabilizing Agricultural Revenues. The fund will be used to disburse compensation to farmers whose revenues have decreased or who have not been paid for their work due to the bankruptcy of businesses that purchase animals and produce from farmers, slaughter livestock and process food. The Russian embargo has shown that such a fund is necessary.

* In the spring of 2011, numerous cases of E. coli food poisoning occurred in Germany, leading to a temporary, international ban on sales of some vegetables. The ban meant considerable losses for vegetable producers, who later received compensation. The original contamination was traced back to bean sprouts from an organic farm in the German state of Lower Saxony.
** an informal grouping of Poland, Germany and France
*** formed during some methods of food preparation, such as charbroiling, grilling, roasting, frying and baking
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