Black market food and authorised imports leave doubts whether products are adequately tested for quality and safety.
By Bedrana Kaletovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 05/07/12
Reports of tainted beef have many consumers worried in the region. Food inspectors work at BiH's Public Health Department in Tuzla. [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]
Regional countries are aware of the importance of controlling food transported across borders, but daily scandals primarily involving imports of meat of dubious quality raise questions about the ability of countries to control the black market for food.
Croatia was recently shaken when a citizen imported hundreds of kilograms of frozen meat of questionable quality from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
The meat lacked any proof of origin and was sold at lower than market prices in Croatia, but generated tremendous profits.
Authorised meat imports in BiH must not be older than six months, according to the country's Veterinary Office -- tasked with inspecting border trade -- and the Croatian agriculture ministry's food safety and inspection department.
BiH requires meat imports to be checked in several phases, and all packages must be announced 24 hours prior to arrival at the border crossing. Parcels must include a veterinarian certificate and pass a visual inspection and identification check, according to the BiH Veterinary Office.
Frozen meat is mostly imported at three border crossings in BiH, and it comes from Holland, Germany, and Austria, and also from Spain, Italy, Hungary and Poland.
Despite a recent agreement among Croatia, BiH, Serbia and Montenegro for an electronic exchange of information, which contributes to more efficient customs procedures, the border controls for food are not well co-ordinated.
"When Croatia becomes an EU member on July 1st next year, the border crossings must function at full capacity and fulfill all EU standards regarding the import of goods of plant or animal origin," Miro Dzakula, director of BiH's indirect taxation administration, told SETimes.
"At present, 25% to 30% of the total meat consumed in Croatia does not go through the control system, but has arrived from the black market outside of any regulations," Stipan Bilic, dietary specialist from Croatia and director of the Kondin business group Kondin, told SETimes.
Bilic explained the large supermarket chains import meat right before its due date, and which they have to sell at half price at home, but here they put it in processed food to earn profit.
BiH officials, however, said the food quality consumed in the country is close to that of the EU.
Sejad Mackic, director of BiH's agency for food safety, told SETimes that out of 1,688 laboratory analyses performed in 2011, only ten did not satisfy established rules.
Food safety and quality experts warn citizens not to rely too much on the state to conduct food controls, but to give precedence to the local producers whom they know and trust.
"Supermarkets and open air markets offer highly treated fruits and vegetables from large producers and suppliers. Such producers are safe and have standardised their production," Dragan Pusara, a food quality expert from Serbia, told SETimes.
On the other hand, he said, there are small producers from local shops whose quality one can always test.
"By purchasing those products, you offer support to local producers and are ensured about the food quality."