The Polish media have dubbed it “saltgate” – revelations that at least three Polish companies have been selling industrial salt (normally used to de-ice roads) to milk, fish, meat and bread producers. Several countries to which Poland may have exported potentially contaminated food products have been identified: Lithuania, Ireland, England, Germany and the Czech Republic. This week, the Czech Agriculture Ministry decided to temporarily block the import of salt from Poland, while tests are carried out by the State Veterinary Administration to determine if harmful substances such as dioxins and heavy metals found in road salt have made their way into the food chain. Meanwhile, five people have been arrested in Poland in connection with the affair, while the remaining salt in question has been impounded as the country’s own Chief Sanitary Inspectorate continues its tests.
The first results are in and apparently the news is good: The Czech State Veterinary Administration has collected salt samples throughout the Moravian-Silesian region bordering Poland and says it has found nothing out of the ordinary. But it’s not over yet: tests are now continuing in the city of Olomouc on various Polish meat and dairy products, which could contain the industrial salt. Meanwhile, authorities in Poland say that recent laboratory tests undertaken in the town of Pulawy suggest that toxin levels found in industrial salt are within acceptable safety limits. So are the fears over just what might have been put into Polish food justified? Czech Agriculture Minister Petr Bendl has thus far ruled out a blanket ban on all Polish food imports. Jan Žáček, a spokesperson for the Czech Ministry of Agriculture explains the process:
“There is a risk that such salt has been imported to the Czech Republic and that is why we have started to check it. We banned Polish salt and not all Polish food products as we could only do the latter if we find anything harmful to Czech consumers in Polish products during the testing of the salt and food products. Then, we would require that the European Union stop the import of Polish food to the Czech Republic. But only if something is found in the tests.”
Žáček also explained the perceived nature of the threat:
“There is a threat of food contamination by harmful substances in the salt from Poland, which is normally used in the technical industry and can include such harmful substances as heavy metals. In the Czech Republic we have started testing imported salt as well as salt already used in food production. All the results of the tests will be available at the end of this week.”
Meanwhile, efforts to secure more information from Poland continue. One other piece of good news is that the Czech authorities have found that direct salt imports to the country are largely from other EU countries and not Poland. Meanwhile, the State Veterinary Administration is also providing provisional reassurances, stating that industrial salt is comprised of 98% salt, with the other 2% usually mostly comprised of anti-caking agents. But the process has not been entirely smooth, with complaints by Agriculture Minister Bendl that initial disclosures by Poland – specifically relating to which products may have contained the industrial salt - were insufficiently detailed. Jan Žáček again:
“Our Minister of Agriculture Petr Bendl send an official letter to his Polish counterpart Marek Savicki asking for a full list of all the companies using the technical salt in Poland as well as requesting further co-operation and we are now waiting for a reply.”
The European Commission is, like many concerned consumers, also keeping a close eye on the matter. Poland, meanwhile, expects its food exports to suffer as a result of this scandal. Whether ultimately there’s cause for more alarm or a sigh of relief should become clear within the next few days.