Science - March 25, 2004

European Food Master students analysed eastern European dairy chains

Polish consumers find it difficult to tell the difference between UHT milk and pasteurised milk as they are packed in very similar cartons. Things are made worse by the confusing media campaigns of the dairy companies. Students doing the Master’s in European Food Studies did an EU-financed study on milk production and distribution in a number of central and eastern European countries.

The purpose of the Optimilk project is to provide recommendations for the development of internationally competitive milk supply chains in these countries. In May this year Poland will join the European Union. There are more than one hundred dairies and many small-scale dairy farmers that are unlikely to meet the EU hygiene regulations by then. Nevertheless the Polish dairy sector has already brought about eighty percent of the milk it produces up to EU standards. It is expected that within two years all Polish milk will meet the required standards.

In the Czech Republic the students examined the highly productive milk chain that already meets European quality criteria. Once this country joins the EU the research team expects that German dairies will buy milk from Czech farmers for higher prices. This will cause many Czech dairies to go bankrupt, but after a while Germans will drop the price they offer for Czech milk and the farmers will end up being the losers. The project recommends that the farmers cooperate with each other and with the milk industries in different countries.

As expected, the story for Bosnia was the saddest. Many dairies and dairy farms have not yet been rebuilt, and others are standing empty, despite much assistance given to the country after the war. Dutch cows were imported, but the highly productive dairy cows soon turned to beef as the philanthropic organisations forgot to give training and the cows were not suited to Bosnian conditions. However, according to the students, Bosnia produces enough milk to feed its own population, but production is hampered by cheap Croatian imports. Croatia abuses the free trade zone by giving export subsidies to its farmers and Bosnia has no food or agriculture legislation. It is not surprising that Bosnian consumers do not trust local milk, as bacteria content is often far too high. The Serbian Republic part of Bosnia is performing better than the Federation. The Serbian Republic is setting up a central laboratory and is amending food laws already.

The students in the European Food Master’s programme graduated on Friday 19 March after ‘eighteen months’ hard work’, as one of the new graduates put it.

Guido van Hofwegen

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