Restaurants found with questionable beef

A scandal in Poland prompted increased inspections in the Czech Republic

A scandal involving Polish beef that is suspected of being substandard has hit the Czech Republic.

Meat that has been mislabeled or cannot be tracked to its origin has been found in several Prague restaurants.

Some beef that has been sold as being of Czech or Argentine origin seems to be from Poland instead, though it is not clear if it comes from a now-closed Polish slaughterhouse that had been butchering animals at night without the proper oversight required by law.

The Czech State Veterinary Administration, in cooperation with the Czech Police and the Customs Administration, has stepped up inspections of trucks along the Czech-Polish border regions, and is taking samples to check for antibiotics, salmonella and other faults.

Checks made between Jan. 28 and Feb. 4 on almost 80 samples of Polish beef so far have turned up no problems, with one-third of the samples already tested.

Inspections are also being carried out at restaurants.

Czech Minister of Agriculture Miroslav Toman (ČSSD) on Feb. 6 named one restaurant that was alleged to have 31 kilograms of various types of unmarked frozen meat including beef, pork, poultry and game that cannot be traced. It was ordered by veterinary inspectors to be destroyed. The restaurant faces a Kč 50 million fine. The restaurant, though, disputes the case and said it was considering legal action for harm to its name.

The State Veterinary Administration also found problems with paperwork at several restaurants. Documents stated that beef came from the Czech Republic, but the beef itself was labeled as coming from Poland.

Toman said that one luxury restaurant was selling Polish beef as high-quality Argentine beef for Kč 1,000 per serving. He did not identify the restaurant but said it had an Asian name and was not a “Chinese restaurant.”

Czech Agricultural and Food Inspection Authority (SZPI) spokesman Pavel Kopřiva said names of restaurants would be released when suspicions have been confirmed.

The issue with Polish beef began with an undercover report by news channel TNV that showed allegedly sick animals being slaughtered at an abattoir some 112 km east of Warsaw. Visibly damaged parts of meat were removed and discarded, and the rest was cut up and sold.

Some 2.7 tons of meat is known to have been shipped to EU countries including Romania, Sweden, Hungary, Estonia, Finland, France, Spain, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia. Twice that amount was sold outside the EU.

Poland makes some 560,000 tons of beef annually, and 85 percent is exported.
Polish law requires a veterinarian to be present at slaughterhouses, but the one at the center of the scandal did not have one on duty.

Polish Agriculture Minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski disputes that the animals were sick, but said proper procedures were not followed. A probe launched in Poland did not find that there was any danger to the public, and that meat treated with antibiotics did not reach the public.

Poland will adopt a change of legislation by the end of March, which will put all slaughterhouses under continuous camera surveillance. State veterinary inspectors will also no longer be able to delegate supervision to slaughterhouses to private vets.

Czech Agriculture Minister Toman said he has agreed with Polish Minister Ardanowski for closer cooperation between the two country's supervisory authorities. Czech veterinary inspectors will head to Poland to clarify the technical details of the cooperation and personally see whether the measures are working in Poland, Toman added.

Toman also said his intention is not to start a trade war, but to protect Czech consumers. In the event of a deterioration of cooperation, though, the Czech Republic is still ready to take extraordinary measures and prohibit the import of Polish beef.

Poland has long faced issues over the quality of its food exports to the Czech Republic.

In 2012 problems were found with Polish powdered eggs, pickles, and sauerkraut. In 2013 Czech inspectors claimed to have found traces of painkillers used on race horses in horse meat. In 2013 Polish meat producers were accused of using industrial salt in processing meat. This resulted in hundreds of tons of meat being removed from markets.

The next year contaminated powdered milk was found to have been used in making wafers and other sweets.

Poland's Ministry of Agriculture claimed at the time that their food was comparable to that of other countries, and Poland was being made a scapegoat.

Czech authorities said that Polish food had a significantly higher amount of defects than comparable Czech foods that had been inspected.

Russia in 2014 banned imports of Polish fruits and vegetables due to concerns over pesticide residues and nitrates. Polish authorities claimed the move was politically motivated in response to sanctions over Ukraine.

Earlier in 2014, Russia banned EU pork products, claiming that Polish pork could be exported from other EU countries. A similar ban took place in 2007, aimed at all meat and live animals from Poland.

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