Mushroom exporters face tougher checks

  • 1999-08-12
  • By Brooke Donald
TALLINN - Fearing that mushrooms from Chernobyl-affected areas may still be contaminated with radiation, the European Commission imposed stiffer controls on mushrooms imported from 23 countries including Estonia last week.

The EU said that since the nuclear accident in 1986, there had been cases of "non-compliance with the permitted levels of radioactive contamination." Levels of radiation "may well have increased in the case of certain species."

Estonian mushroom exporters assure that the mushrooms here are not contaminated and are always tested for radiation.

"Estonian mushrooms are clean. The Estonian food inspector says that they are OK and have been for a while," said Priit Ojamaa, consultant to the Minister of Agriculture on European and foreign affairs.

Ojamaa said, however, the ministry does not have a response to the new demands because it has not received official word yet from the commission.

"There are no official papers on our table that say it is like this or that. What happens in August is that the European Commission is on holiday. We have not received any official word. We only have what the news has said," he said.

The new controls would mean more thorough checks by EU member states at customs points and a certificate proving the mushrooms' safety before they penetrate EU markets, which could mean more costs for the Estonian exporter.

Tervo Reinart, of Figuraata Oy, an Estonian mushroom export company, said his company is already feeling the affects of the tougher controls.

"Last year there was only customs' costs, this year there are laboratory taxes and customs," Reinart said.

Reinart added that with the dry summer, growth of mushrooms is low this year, and the extra taxes were extra heartaches.

"It is just another way to get more money," he said.

As part of the new controls, EU member states are authorized to "levy charges for sampling and analysis and for the destruction of the product or its return," the commission said in the EU's Official Journal.

But Ojamaa says exporters shouldn't worry, saying the new regulations will probably not slow business activity.

Mushrooms are not the most significant sector of Estonian agriculture, Ojamaa said. In the first six months of this year, 5.2 tons of mushrooms were exported whereas 54.3 tons were imported, according to Ojamaa.

"If you go by the statistics you can see the significance of this - not much," he said.

Latvia and Lithuania were also on the commission's list of import countries to be affected by the latest controls.