Safety – The Achille’s Heel of Georgian Cheese
13 November, 2014
Safety – The Achille’s Heel of Georgian Cheese
Georgian cheese production goes back eight thousand years. It includes some 180 different kinds. The cheese seems to have a big export potential for its exquisite taste and the antique technology used to make it. The target market for Georgian cheese first and foremost, is the EU as this market is famous for its interest in cheese. Although the competition is pretty high in the European cheese market, Georgian analysts believe Georgian cheese can hold up well against famous cheese-producers
such as those of France, Italy or Switzerland.

Ana Mikadze, Head of the Guild of Cheese Producers, believes that Georgian home-made cheese has big potential in the European market in the niche of so-called boutique cheese that is smaller in volume and higher in price. She expects as investment inflow in Georgian cheese production.
“If we use our historical heritage as one of the antique cheese producers in the world, we can compete even with France,” Nino Zambakhidze, Head of Georgian Farmers’ Association, said in the interview with Georgian Journal. “But to achieve this level first of all we should adopt the civilized quality and safety standards of cheese production. It is very similar to Georgian wine problem where there was a falsified product put up for sale for years.
Georgia has a long way to go before its cheese goes on export to the large EU market. There are around 800 thousand small farmers in Georgia who produce cheese in god-knows-what hygienic conditions and only a few processing factories that more or less observe safety and hygienic norms.
The market research of non-governmental organizations revealed that the home-made cheese put on sale at Georgian agriculture markets is full of bacteria and risky for health. Factory-produced cheese enters only big super-markets and shops and costs 2-5 GEL more. Therefore Georgian consumers of lower purchasing power prefer to buy cheese at farmer’s markets and small shops that ignore safety standards.
Georgian food laws oblige cheese-making enterprises to adopt due safety standards of HASP [the Health and Safety Plan of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] and ISO [International Organization for Standardization] starting in January of 2015. But private producers of homemade cheese that is sold in agriculture markets will still remain risky. Meeting HASP standards alone needs at least 15 thousand Euros, which is rarely available for many factories let alone petty farmers.
Since but they also need to get civilized soon, Georgia has an obligation to adopt full safety standards for animal products (such as dairy and meat products) for the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU. It means all cheese producers big or small must meet the international standards of HASP and ISO. Unless Georgia gets the status of a risk-free country no Georgian cheese producer can export its product to the EU even if the producer adopts all due standards alone.
Therefore there is no choice but to find ways to get financial resources and to develop the Georgian cheese industry in the right direction. Zambakhidze believes that the situation is not hopeless and that small farmers and private producers do have three options.
“Small farmers can sell their milk to cheese-producing enterprises operating near their living place. I assure you that it will bring them similar profit as the cheese making at home; secondly, they can amalgamate under an umbrella of cooperatives and get due financing to set up a factory and observe all standards. There are plenty of foreign organizations that eagerly give grants to such cooperatives and the state also supports with cheap credit. Thirdly, they may stay as private producers but must observe elementary hygiene like vaccinating their cattle and keeping them in clean conditions under strong state control. The vaccination and blood testing is not expensive it may cost roughly 5 GEL per cow each year and private farmers must pay for this if they want to stay in the market. They cannot be allowed to produce risky products at the expense of consumers’ health,” Zambakhidze elaborated.

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