Romania seeks recovery from food scandals

02/04/2013

Romanian officials need to protect the country from false accusations, analysts say.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 02/04/13

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The milk scandal in has resulted in decreased sales, Romanian farmers complain. [AFP]

Experts told SETimes that the recent scandals in Romania, which involved milk and horse meat that was distributed throughout Europe, were the results of miscommunication, and the country is taking steps to rebound.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta replaced Mihai Turcanu, the head of the government food safety agency, last month, accusing him of flawed communication and poor management.

"It all comes down to an inexperienced minister," Adrian Radulescu, the head of the Romanian Farmers Association, told SETimes. "What started as a mere routine check as a consequence of a complaint filed by the Romanian farmers themselves, turned against them due to officials' incapacity to properly communicate."

Romanian Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin announced on March 7th that aflatoxin contaminated milk had been discovered on the market. Without further details available, the report degenerated and turned into a collective hysteria.

Milk sales have dropped by about 50 percent. Romanian farmers had to dispose of tens of thousands litres of milk. Officials in Bucharest had to deal with protesting farmers, who are complaining that no processor will buy milk from them.

The contaminated milk scandal came just as Romania was reeling from a horse meat scandal which dealt a serious blow to the country's image and meat processors.

"It is too early to count the losses," Dragos Frumosu, the president of the Federation of Food Industry Unions, told SETimes.

The horse meat crisis broke in January when it was confirmed that the meat was discovered in Great Britain and Ireland.

Romania was initially fingered amid a pan-European debate. On February 14th, French authorities confirmed it was a French company that imported horse meat from Romania and then re-labeled it as beef.

"Romania has been wrongly accused in the horse meat scandal," French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said a week later in a press conference with visiting Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

But the scandal has left a deep wound in the country.

"The effects are hard to fix when you are looked at as Europe's black sheep," Radulescu said. "The Romanian government should have had a much firmer reaction when the scandal erupted."

"Romania has not been able to build a solid image abroad and this is why [many think] we are a vulnerable country," Frumosu said. "This is why the government had to stand up against those flinging mud at us."

Bucharest officials said it would seek compensation from the EU after the horse-meat scandal, but no clear proceedings have been launched.

In Romania, citizens have been left with serious doubts.

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"I have turned to chicken solely after this scandal. This scandal has tested my confidence and I do not want to risk anything for now," Alexandru Pricop, an economist in Bucharest, told SETimes. "Probably, some high ranking official in Bucharest doubted the correctness of the Romanian food processors, this is why the reaction was a bit shy."

Frumosu said the meat processing industry in the country has been mostly modernised with European funds.

"Citizens have the right to know what they are buying. This is why maybe the authorities should boost their confidence by passing stricter regulations and punishments for those who break the law," he said. "EU has to create a common front as far as the food safety is concerned."

What is the best way to restore Romania's image in Europe after the food scandals? Tell us by making a comment below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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