21 December, 2017
Guidelines recently issued by Montenegro’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development are set to help producers comply with the country’s new food hygiene requirements.
The new bylaws, in line with European Union legislation, include flexibility measures and derogations for small-scale meat producers, processors and distributors, as well as producers of traditional meat products.
They detail specific requirements, particularly those related to the construction and layout of facilities that either are not compulsory for small-scale operators or can be adapted.
“This is a big step forward for our country,” said the General-Director for Agriculture Danijela Stolica.
“These bylaws protect the production and welfare of our producers, who are mostly small operators, without sacrificing food safety and hygiene while also maintaining differentiated and high quality products. Without these measures, they would largely be excluded from competing in big markets such as the EU,” she added.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) supported this initiative, which is part of a larger joint project to upgrade meat quality standards in Montenegro.
Gaining consumer confidence
Nearly half of Montenegro’s agricultural output comes from livestock and meat production. Yet a significant amount of the meat eaten in the country is imported.
Animal disease outbreaks, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and Foot and Mouth disease, have chipped away at consumer confidence and export opportunities.
Complying with stricter food safety and quality standards can help allay consumer concerns and open up new markets for Montenegrin meat producers.
Many of Montenegro’s family farmers make specialty meat products using production methods passed down over generations. While some of these methods are safe, they do differ from the new rules and regulations.
The flexibility provisions, however, enable businesses making such products to continue following traditional production methods, from production to packaging, without cutting corners on food hygiene.
These flexibility provisions are important as they help preserve the diversity of food products in Montenegro, as well as local traditions, cultural heritage and livelihoods.
More inclusive sector
The guidelines are geared primarily towards food businesses involved in slaughtering, meat cutting and further processing, and can be applied throughout the entire meat chain, from farm to fork.
Food business operators can also use the guidelines as a source of information when setting up their own food safety systems, including prerequisite programmes and self-check and self-control plans – the so-called HACCP or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point.
“Upgrading food quality and safety standards at all stages will make for a stronger, more inclusive meat sector in Montenegro, attracting more investment and helping the country’s smallholders stay in the market,” said Miljan Ždrale, Head of Agribusiness for CSEE at the EBRD.
During a 2016 study tour organized by FAO and the EBRD, a group of Montenegrin meat producers, veterinary inspectors and government officials learned how their Austrian counterparts are implementing flexibility measures. They also saw how small slaughterhouses carry out meat inspections and hygiene controls.
“The Austrian meat sector has a well-organized monitoring system in place that really supports smaller producers to meet the food safety provisions,” said Lisa Paglietti, an FAO economist. “It’s a truly collaborative effort. They’re not creating barriers, but rather helping each other, and that was an important take-away for the Montenegrin delegation.”
“The bylaws can be difficult to interpret, so the guidelines are there to help producers comply with the flexibility provisions and inspectors to monitor the compliance,” she added.
FAO will continue to support the Government as it rolls out the guidelines across the country, strengthening its capacity to monitor and control food safety.
EastAgri Montenegro country profile: http://www.eastagri.org/country_detail.php?id=44
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