Bulgaria checks food safety to appease farmers
Prosecutors and authorities have launched mass checks of milk and meat products safety in Bulgaria, the veterinary service said.
Prosecutors and authorities have launched mass checks of milk and meat products safety in Bulgaria, the veterinary service said on Tuesday, following protests over cheap agricultural imports.
The move is aimed at appeasing angry farmers who last week blocked a major border crossing with Romania to press the government to cut imports of agricultural substitutes, such as powdered milk and palm oil, and pay subsidies.
Farmers and consumer organisations say processors often use cheap imported substitutes, of sometimes dubious quality, to produce cheese, butter and meat products without listing the ingredients on the labels.
"The checks aim to find out what kind of products and additives are used ... and whether the legal requirements for food safety are met," the veterinary service said in a statement.
Companies which fail to comply face fines and closures.
Of Bulgaria's 245 milk and 440 meat processing plants only about four dozen are licensed to export to the European Union as the rest do not meet the bloc's veterinary and food safety standards, Agriculture Ministry data showed.
Farmers, hit by a fall in agricultural prices, welcomed the safety checks but said the move was not enough to stop them from staging more protests as soon as this week.
"They just want to divert our attention from the key problem," Boiko Sinapov, head of the Association of Livestock Farmers, told Reuters.
"Our sector is dying and the Bulgarians will soon eat only imported milk and meat," he added. "The government must act urgently to start providing direct payments from the budget on top of the EU subsidies and protect us."
Farmers have also demanded a minimum protective price for milk and immediate payment of subsidies for animals and milk for 2009, as well as pasture subsidies for 2008.
Bulgaria's farming industry, once a mainstay of the economy, has shrunk to 5 percent of GDP from 25 percent in the past decade. Cash-strapped producers suffered again last year after the EU froze millions in farm aid over graft.
The global economic crisis have begun to erase Bulgaria's gains over the past decade because its main export market, the EU, has fallen into recession.
The Balkan country, which has the lowest GDP and income per capita in the EU, is hit by a wave protests, with people saying they want better living standards.
Reuters Last Mod: 11 Şubat 2009, 11:30