By Constantinos Psillides
BUTCHERS and restaurants are trying to pass off imported frozen pork as local at the expense of consumers’ health, the Pig Farmers Association (PFA) head Giorgos Neofytou said yesterday, calling on the government to step in and take measures to deal with the issue.
Neofytou told the Cyprus Mail that this is the latest in a long chain of problems plaguing local pork producers, which led to a decrease in pork output of up to 50 per cent in the recent years.
“We simply cannot cope anymore. Mounting debts, licensing fees, remodelling farms to comply with EU environmental standards, fall in meat consumption and falling prices are driving pig farmers out of work. The majority of my fellow farmers left the profession and production dropped by 50 per cent. We are at the brink. We want the government to step in and deal with this problem. It’s unacceptable that consumers are being cheated like this. People should know where the meat they are buying comes from,” said Neofytou.
The PFA head told the Cyprus Mail that a number of butcheries import frozen pork meat from other EU countries at a cheaper price, de-frost it and try to pass it off as local.
“We advise consumers to specifically ask for local meat and not just buy what the butcher is selling,” said Neofytou.
Asked to identify those butchers, Neofytou said that he didn’t wish to hurt anyone. The head of the PFA said that he will meet with Agriculture minister Nicos Kouyialis some time next week to discuss the issue at length.
The head of the Butchers Association, Costas Livadiotis, dismisses the accusations, telling the Cyprus Mail that the PFA is shooting itself in the foot. “You know what’s the only thing they will achieve? People not eating pork. That’s the only outcome of this exaggerated complaint,” said Livadiotis, claiming that this is a minor problem not worth the fuss.
“I don’t know anyone dumb enough to do this. This is not canned goods. You can’t just freeze, de-frost and re-freeze raw meat. There is a good chance it could go bad and the butcher will end up poisoning people. Who is going to buy from him then? The risk is too big to take. I’m not saying that nobody does it. I’m just saying that it’s probably only a couple of butchers. This is mainly a restaurant practice.”
The head of the butchers’ association pointed out that some restaurant owners –mainly kebab houses – prefer to import their own meat than to buy locally.
“It’s their right to do so. This is a free market and importing pork is cheaper than buying it here,” Livadiotis said.
“Maybe the Agriculture ministry could step in and force restaurant owners to properly label items on the menu, informing the consumer beforehand that they serve frozen pork. The same way fish taverns are obliged to inform customers when fish on the menu is frozen. Maybe then, consumers would ask for local pork so the problem will be resolved.”
According to Livadiotis, 3,000 tons of fresh pork are imported in Cyprus every year, along with 1,500 tons of frozen pork. The meat is mainly imported from Holland and Belgium. He claims that the majority of imports end up in the deli industry.
“Cypriots love their meat and especially their pork. And always choose local over imported,” stressed Livadiotis, adding that de-frosted pork sold for local is a minor problem compared to the other problems in the industry. “Pork consumption has dropped drastically, while pork prices are still very high.
Businesses that import their pork do so because they buy it cheaper and sell it a higher profit.”
Livadiotis pledged to name and shame anyone who buys frozen meat and tries to pass it off as fresh.
“Don’t give us vague accusations. Give us specifics. If the Pig Farmers Association can point out who does this, we will oust them to protect consumers,” said Livadiotis.