Dairy farmers in Poland are under pressure to meet EU health standards.

23-01-2004

Hundreds of small dairy producers in Poland face closure if they fail to improve hygiene and animal welfare standards ahead of EU entry. Strict EU monitoring is expected to cause problems for farmers in all the candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe. But in Poland the problem is affecting regions already depressed by high unemployment figures

Single cows tended on small farms like this one at Nowa Wies near Warsaw are seen as a problem by EU officials who need to subsidies tiny Polish farms. But grazing on unpolluted pastures, the cows give excellent quality milk that's turned into delicious yoghurt and cottage cheese. Milk from such farms largely ends up at small, family-run dairies that would probably thrive in the west, selling their produce as organic food. But in Poland, it's a different story.

Currently there are about 400 dairies operating in Poland, but as in the case of many other small businesses, their owners have been unable to meet the challenge of the single market. They rarely join co-operatives and generally complain that not enough was done to show them how to adapt to strict EU regulations. Mirek Soltys runs a small dairy at Nowa Wies. He's worried about his future.

"For years, I have been getting up before the break of dawn to cart milk. Now, I don't know what to do. Maybe I will be able to sell my milk in another region of the country. EU membership has forced me to close my business."

So far 50 Polish dairies have received the rubber stamp of EU hygiene approval and export to the EU while yet another 180 Polish companies are set to meet the grade upon accession. But there are those who think that the traditional structure of Polish agriculture can be turned to its advantage. Marek Murawski from the National Association of Dairy Cooperatives.

"Its less chemicals in dairy production. We still have very natural production. This is a very strong point about our products. They are healthier. Cheaper milk prices for farmers is really competitive to the EU price, but sooner or later the suction pump, lets say between our countries, will decrease this difference."

Even though Poland's dairy sector may face difficult times during the first year of membership, the weeding out of ill prepared dairy farms may spell good news in the long term, according to Krzysztof Bobinski from the Union and Poland Foundation.

"The dairy sector has had to make an enormous effort to bring itself up to EU sanitary standards because they are very worried that there may be outbreaks of food poisoning, etc. Well, I think it's a question of money. Smaller dairies don't have the money. The government also hasn't had the money to put into a modernization programme. I think awareness of this problem is quite high, but it's just a question that the means aren't there. There are a significant number of dairies that have come up to EU standards and will be producing better quality milk. So those dairies that haven't been able to meet those standards would have lost out on the market anyway. They would have gone out of business anyway because people naturally will be tending to buy the products which have the higher safety standards."

So as always, progress seems to come at a price. Even if the price to pay for the farmers and the dairy owner of Nowa Wies is very high.

23-01-2004

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