Hundreds of food-processing plants shut down

The State Veterinary Institute announced Friday that over 500 food processing plants were shut down in the Czech Republic at the end of 2003. The closures of the plants were due to food safety and hygiene standards failing to meet European Union regulations.

The European Commission said in its November report that the state of food safety in the Czech Republic was the biggest remaining problem before the country's entrance to the EU in May. Czech diplomats played down the accusation of the commission and said that the State Veterinary Institute had the situation under control and were in preparation for an uncompromising intervention, which eventually happened at the end of 2003.

According to Josef Holejsovsky, the head of the State Veterinary Institute, about 2800 food-processing plants were examined for compliance with EU provisions. 505 of these sites fell short to meeting the standards of which almost 400 of them were meat-processing plants.

The food industry had known about the provisions for at least 2 years before. So what were they waiting for? Some plants and businesses didn't find enough money to make the necessary upgrades while some waited too long to deal with the situation. Others simply underestimated how thoroughly Czech inspectors would make the examination.

But the sites that were approved for meeting hygiene standards are still not passed the examination process. Joesf Holejsovsky of the State Veterinary Institute.

"7 inspectors from the European Commission will be working with Czech officials on the 19th of January for two weeks and will further check up on the food processing plants that we had already approved".

Mr. Holejsovsky anticipates that future inspections will mainly apply to sites that made last minute improvements, which are necessary for permission to export to the single European market.

If Czech food industries fail to meet regulations in upcoming inspections, the European Commission may impose sanctions upon the Czech Republic's accession on May 1st.