Georgian borders’ phito-sanitary control falls below par
14 February, 2013
Georgian borders’ phito-sanitary control falls below par
The first ever report of Georgian customs officers on revealing of approximately 199 tons of diseased potatoes detained at Georgian-Turkish border Sarpi on February 7, 2013, triggered fears that phyto-sanitary control on Georgian borders as well as throughout the entire country is far below the par and should be revised.
199620 kg of potatoes entered Georgia on February 8, 2013, at its crossing point “Sarpi” on Georgian-Turkish border near Batumi, Ajara. Potatoes were divided between several individual consignments of various
importers. While phyto-sanitary control was conducted by the specialists of the Sanitary Phyto-Sanitary and Non-tariff measures Division of the Revenue Service (RS), reasonable doubt arouse regarding the quarantinable diseases Synchytrium endobioticum (Schilb) Perc - potato wart and of quarantinable microorganism Ralstonia solanacearum – bacterial wilt. To verify the existence of quarantinable object samples were obtained and forwarded to special laboratory of Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University that verified the existence of the said diseases in the potato. Signals were sent to National Food Agency of Georgia operating with the Agriculture Ministry of Georgia. The potato was detained and submitted to complete extermination and a notification sent to the importer country - Turkey.
Government as well as non-governmental watchdogs assure that there is no danger that the blighted potato will penetrate Georgian consumer market although sector pundits admit that phyto-sanitary control of Georgian border check points is much below the par since 2005 after the significant food controlling paragraphs were suspended in food law until 2010. And the phyto-sanitary control on imported goods was worsen since 2007 when the phyto-sanitary control at customs check-points implemented by Georgian National Food Agency before was handed to customs department itself that does not check all cargos to this end. Therefore, the risk that diseased or perished food-staff has been penetrating Georgian market since 2005 is quite high.
“This is the first case when customs reported of the suspicious goods detainment however it is not the first ever similar case in fact but nobody reported of them before,” Madona Koidze, Chairperson of the Union of Protection Georgian Consumers’ Rights, said in the interview to Georgian Journal. “Not all food consignments are checked thoroughly at Georgian customs check-points, custom officers generally scrutinize financial documentation of cargos but when it comes to phyto-sanitary control they use selective method that leaves risks that nonqualified product may enter in the country.”
Veriko Gulua, PR of Georgian National Food Agency, assures that the phyto-sanitary service operating at customs pays attention on all documentation as far as the recently detained potato has provided a quality certificate in fact but the checking revealed diseases in the vegetable.
There are no official statistics how much the trend of food detainment cases at borders increased or decreased in Georgia since 2005 and 2007. Georgian National Food Agency just offers some statistics on internal market inspections including food producing enterprises in the yearly report of 2011 but without indication the names of misbehavior companies. But according to Koidze as well as Shalva Melkadze, a former Consumer Rights Protection Program Coordinator with the non-governmental Century 21, food poison cases doubled doubled and even tripled compared to 2004 [it stood at approximately 400 per year in 2004 while the figure reached almost 2-3 thousand in 2009-2010] and even tripled since 2005 when the food quality controlling paragraphs were halted until 2010. The governmental excuse was to spare fledgling food-focused entrepreneurs from costly expenses related with the re-equipping their plants in line with the up-to-the-state quality standards that might lead petty food producer to bankruptcy. Ex-power believed small entrepreneurs might get stronger in the excused period. However the issue was delayed again for several times till 2012. But after the EU pressure getting stronger since 2008 when it offered Georgia to start preparation for free trade agreement with the EU, government started inactivation of the suspended quality-controlling paragraphs but with preferences: only export-oriented companies were obliged to observe all due standards first. As a result the local market remained still less protected.
Bondo Bolkvadze, a customs law analyst, believes Georgian customs phyto-sanitary control is in line with the EU one from the principle and conceptual points of view.
“May be Georgian officers have less skills and equipments compared to the EU peers but those who implement phyto-sanitary control are aware of all due skills,” He said.
Non-governmental watchdogs acknowledge that Georgian customs border check-points are equipped with the special technique approved in frames of the EU risks management program but it does not insure comprehensive cargo monitoring as chooses goods at random and implements customs clearance procedures in 15 minutes.
“No country makes customs clearance in 15 minutes, how can you scrutinize the product and implement phyto-sanitary control in 15 minutes?” Melkadze wonders. “In Lithuania for example that has half of Georgian population there are about 15 customs check-points and each requires phyto-sanitary control.
As a consequence not only food product but technique, perfume, pharmaceutical product and household utensils slip away the comprehensive phyto-sanitary control that set health of Georgian population at hazard.
“Not only food may be hazardous for health but dishes for example imported from China that are quite fashionable today include dyes that are extremely dangerous for health, so are perfume and other domestic technique and utensils that may inflict much more harm than the perished food can do,” Koiudze elaborates. “Therefore the random checking of imported product that are in some extent related with food and human health must be controlled completely.”
According to Paata Koghuashvili, a former MP and agriculture analyst, food safety law was quite ineffective since Shevardnadze regime but after Rose-Revolution things got worse.
“Four years ago, when Russia suspended Turkish import [of fruit and vegetables] until a thorough phyto-sanitary control was establised over them, I asked Georgian Prime Minister to launch similar control over the vegetables imported from Turkey but to no avail,” Kighuashvili said. “Besides the fact that the sector was monopolized, the importers, who operated under the National Movement’s protection, were crossing borders without problems.”
New government intends to make amendment in the food safety code that presumably will be approved at the parliament during the spring session. On the other hand, a law on protecting consumers’ rights is under preparation and is supposed to be through by the end of the year, Koidze presumes.
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