Czechs and Poles to boost food safety links

Stanisław Kalemba, Petr Bendl, photo: CTK

In a meeting in Prague on Monday, the Czech and Polish agriculture ministers addressed a long-running dispute over the quality of Polish food imports to the Czech Republic. In what may prove to be the first step to defusing the row, the Czech agriculture minister, Petr Bendl, and his Polish counterpart, Stanisław Kalemba, have agreed to boost cooperation and to improve the exchange of information between their food inspection agencies.

Petr Bendl,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The dispute between Prague and Warsaw has been going on for over a year now. The Czech authorities have been complaining about the poor quality of Polish food sold in the Czech Republic, a claim they say is sustained by the results of numerous inspections. Polish officials, meanwhile, have accused the Czechs of waging a campaign that hurts Polish food sales on the Czech market – in a bid to help domestic producers.

In an attempt to calm the situation, Poland’s Agriculture Minister Stanisław Kalemba visited Prague on Monday for talks with his Czech counterpart, Petr Bendl. After the meeting, Mr Bendl told reporters that they had reached an outline agreement.

“We would like to see much closer cooperation between our food inspection agencies. Given the volume of Polish foodstuffs on the Czech market, we are certain that mutual communication should intensify. I have proposed an exchange of Czech and Polish food inspectors in order to better understand the system in each country, and to ensure that poor quality food is detected as early as possible.”

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague
Ever since last February when industrial salt was discovered in some Polish food products, Czech officials have complained that their Polish counterparts refuse to share information. For instance, the Czech food inspection authority was never informed by their Polish colleagues which producers were implicated in the scandal, making it difficult to trace potentially unsafe foodstuffs. Minister Bendl hopes Monday’s meeting will change the way information is exchanged between the two sides.

“We are sure this will improve relations, and will also help sales of quality food. In the interest of both the consumers and the producers, we believe that today a new phase in communication between our countries should begin. We cannot really be happy with what the situation is like now.”

For his part, the Mr Kalemba said one thing that must change is the way the public is informed of the results of food inspections. The two countries’ media should only refer to those cases that have been proven beyond doubt, he says.

Stanisław Kalemba,  photo: CTK
“The media in both countries will be only informed of food inspection results after these results are ascertained by laboratory tests. The Polish and Czech sides have declared that this should clear doubts related to the quality and safety of food, namely in those cases that have been discussed in the media, and generally improve the situation on the market.”

No details of how the cooperation between the Czech Republic and Poland should improve in this respect were released after Monday’s meeting. But the issue will no doubt also be on the agendas of the Czech president and prime minister who are both set to visit Poland later this month.