Hungary keeps ban on Ukrainian agriculture products in place

Inspectors find very few issues with UA grain; regulation on "compulsory discounts" published; pesticides' sales revenue rises; Hungarians okay with dieting but not with cutting out meat - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Hungary.

Wheat field in sunshine
Beeld: ©PicJumbo

Hungary keeps UA import bans in place

After the government announced on April 28 that a deal has been reached with the EU on the topic of certain member states’ unilateral bans on the imports of Ukrainian agriculture products (including Hungary), Minister for Agriculture István Nagy delivered a speech on the current state of Hungarian agriculture at the CPAC Hungary conference in the beginning of May.

At the conference, Minister Nagy told the newspaper Magyar Nemzet that the government “can uphold the restriction on the import of Ukrainian grain,” until Hungary receives “satisfactory guarantees.”

“Currently, the system contains a loophole that allows grain to enter based on contracts dated to before the deadline. We do not want to allow this as it is impossible to verify the authenticity of these documents. There is enough grain in Hungary to meet the needs," stated Minister István Nagy.

According to the deal made with the EU Commission, Hungary agreed to lift the ban on most Ukrainian agricultural products, in return for the imposition of EU import restrictions on wheat, maize, sunflower seed and rapeseed, which entered into force on May 2. As part of that deal, Hungary was to be included in the recipients of a second agricultural aid package worth €100 million in total. Hungary’s share from the aid package was proposed at €16 million.

As the Hungarian import ban now remains in place, the list of Ukrainian agriculture products that are barred from entering Hungary continues to include, among others, chicken and other meats, eggs, and honey. See the full list of products here.

Food security inspections found chemicals in Ukrainian grain in only two cases out of tens of thousands

The investigative journalism center Átlátszó.hu has reported this week that out of 34 thousand inspections of Ukrainian grain shipments, authorities have only found issues in two cases.

News outlets managed by the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), which is close to the government, have all reported in March that Ukrainian grain shipments would be inspected for “banned chemicals,” stating that at the request of Hungarian farmers, “county government offices began inspecting grain coming from Ukraine in mid-February. Genetically modified crops are permitted to be grown in Ukraine and they are sprayed with chemicals that have been banned in the European Union for years.'"

The portal reports that in 2022, 1,111 tons of grain was imported from Ukraine into Hungary, and that once, on January 7, 2022, the National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH) found a detectable level of herbicide, and of glyphosate, which is not yet banned, the amount was four times the permissible limit in a shipment of millet.

Átlátszó.hu received inspection data from NÉBIH on Ukrainian grain shipments in 2023 up until March 17. In this time window, 67,887 tons of grain had crossed the border between Ukraine and Hungary, (67 times the amount of 2022). On these shipments, the authorities have conducted 33,946 inspections in search for chemical residues and other harmful materials. In one quarter of the samples, there were trace chemical residues present, out of which only one sample exceeded the permissible limit.

Compulsory discounts: Regulation published

We have previously reported that aside from extending the price caps on certain foods, the Hungarian government has also recently announced the unprecedented policy of introducing mandatory discounts that grocery retail stores will have to apply.

Last Friday, the regulation on this policy was published in the Hungarian Gazette. Governmental Decree 162/2023 (V. 5.) introduces the mandatory discount policy which will be in force between June 1, and September 30, 2023. The policy applies to grocery retail chains with an annual income of at least €1,37 million.

Mandatory discounts will have to be announced weekly, on Thursdays, to last until the end of Wednesday next week. Discounts will have to be introduced for one product out of every category out of a list of twenty food categories, with a total discount of at least 10% off of the gross price. Stores will not have to apply discounts to categories in which they do not sell at least five products.

The regulation also states that traders are obliged to display, in a visible place in the store, “the information on the price reduction, as determined by the Minister responsible for general political coordination, which specifies the content and form of the information and refers to the fact and extent of the price reduction.” Traders are also required to display the information on their online platform as part of their advertising activities.

Failure to comply with the regulation can result in fines between €1,340 and €8,050, however, authorities can also order the mandatory closure of stores for periods ranging from one day to six months.

The twenty product categories are the following:

  1. Poultry meat
  2. Pork, Beef, and Other Meats
  3. Fish, Canned Fish
  4. Meat Products
  5. Milk, Sour Cream, and Substitutes
  6. Yogurt and Other Fermented Products
  7. Other Dairy Products
  8. Cheese
  9. Butter, Margarine, and Products
  10. Other Fats (Plant and Animal)
  11. Bread
  12. Baked Goods
  13. Dry Pasta, Rice, and Other Cereals
  14. Flour, Sugar, Preserved Flour Products
  15. Fresh Vegetables
  16. Fresh Fruits
  17. Fruit and Vegetable Juice
  18. Ready-made Meals, Spices, Seasonings
  19. Coffee, Tea
  20. Mineral Water and Soft Drinks

Pesticide sales revenue up in Hungary

Agrá reports based on data by the Central Statistical Office (KSH) that the net revenue from pesticides in 2022 was €416 million, which shows an increase of 17.8% compared to 2021.

In the past year, herbicides were the most in demand, followed in order by insecticides, fungicides, collector packages, and biological agents. Within the total sales, except for insecticides, the proportion of every product category decreased compared to the previous year, with other chemicals showing the greatest decline. In terms of value, herbicides accounted for the largest proportion of annual sales, followed by fungicides, then insecticides, other chemicals, collector packages, and finally biological products.

KSH states that in 2022, the average price of herbicides increased by 23.8%, fungicides by 22.6%, other chemicals by 22.4%, and insecticides by 15.2%. The sales price of plant protection products increased on average by 22.3% compared to the previous year.

Hungarians easily cut out sugar for their diet but remain very carnivorous, finds survey

The meat production company Pápai Hús Kft. has conducted an online survey involving 4000 respondents, on the topic of conscious diets and meat-eating.

According to the survey, one-third of the population is specifically conscious about their nutrition, and eats consciously. Almost the same number of people stated that they follow some kind of special diet. The decision is usually motivated by health and aesthetic reasons, according to the study, but there are also those who have specifically chosen unique diets for environmental reasons.

About 20% of respondents keep track of their daily calorie intake, but more than half of them (55.6%) pay attention to the fat content of the meat and products they buy. The survey also reveals that most people (16.4%) eliminate sugar from their diet.

A small minority (2%) said that the reason for their diet was environmental consciousness.

However, almost 90% of respondents consider meat and processed meat products an essential part of their diet. 96% of consumers eat meat several times a week, with many (33%) eating it daily. Even among people following diets, meat remains popular, as 63% of respondents incorporate some form of meat into their diet.