Hungary to introduce a deposit on single-use bottles

Investigative journalists uncover issues with food waste prevention center; Minister suggests tighter honey regulations to EP; voles devastate crops; bread prices skyrocketed; and the ministry's plan for the poultry sector - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Hungary

Close-up photo of empty soda bottles in a crate.
Beeld: ©Drew Taylor

Deposit on single-use bottles to be introduced in January

The television channel RTL has recently reported on the government’s plans to introduce a deposit on recyclable plastic bottles. The new regulation will enter into force in January 2024, with a transitioning period of 6 months during which it will be gradually phased in.

The deposit that consumers will have to pay for recyclable containers (including plastic PET bottles, glass bottles and aluminum cans) will be HUF 50 (€0.13) for which consumers will get refunds upon turning them in. clarified that around 2 thousand return centers or “REpoints” will be established.

Greenpeace has stated that with this new development “three times as much waste might be reused than before.” Gergely Simon, Greenpeace’s chemical expert commented that it is a huge step forward that often-wasted resources like PET plastics, aluminum and glass will now be reused at a higher rate.

Greenpeace also commented that the best solution would be if consumers opted for reusable containers instead of single-use bottles but that “this is not incentivized by the legislative environment in Hungary.”

RTL also reported that although the deposit on containers will be generally mandatory, the installation of automated return machines will only be mandated for stores with a floor size of at least 400 m2. Spar commented to RTL that 345 of their stores fall under the regulation and that the machines are being installed. Aldi has commented that all of their stores will have the machines installed.

Investigative journalists: Food Saving Center saves no food, wastes money

The investigative news portal Átlátszó.hu has recently published a new report (Hungarian language) on the state of the mandatory food donation system. We have reported in 2021 on the establishment of a new “food-saving system” by the government which mandated that large retail chains donate their food products that are approaching expiration. Many of these had donated food  routinely and systematically to food waste prevention charities in the first place.

In the middle of October, Átlátszó.hu has reported that although the newly established, governmentally run Food Saving Center (ÉMK) “has not collected a single kilogram of food yet,” the center has recently spent €4,7 million on the maintenance of its IT system which previously cost €5.71 million to build. Moreover, the company only just recently issued a public procurement tender for the logistics network required for its mandated task fulfillment. Átlátszó.hu also reports that the annual revenue of ÉMK was, in fact, zero last year, and it ended the year with a loss of €434 thousand.

Minister Nagy proposes changes to European Parliament

Fidesz EP MEP Balázs Hidvéghi has announced on his Facebook page that Hungary’s Minister for Agriculture István Nagy has recently met with Norbert Lins, chair of the EP’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

According to the post, Minister Nagy’s suggestions included per-hive direct financial support, sanctions for companies that “flood Europe with low quality import honey,” tightening the regulations on the origin labeling of honey blends, and taking measures to stop the extinction of bee populations.

Field voles devastate crops

The National Chamber of Agriculture (NAK) communicated this week that the proliferation of common voles is further complicating the situation of crop cultivation in Hungary. NAK further adds that in recent times, several factors have favored the proliferation of rodents. These include a long fall last year, a mild, dry, and low-precipitation winter, along with the early onset of spring, which all favored voles.

NAK further adds that due to changes in the conditional framework of EU agricultural subsidies, non-rotational tillage, the lack of plowing, and leaving fields fallow have been preferred in recent times. As a result, farmers do not disturb vole burrows, allowing rodent populations to proliferate without constraints.

Voles are characterized by their extraordinary reproductive rate, as the offspring of a single pair can reach as many as 150-200 individuals in a year, meaning that a population can multiply itself by a hundredfold. Currently, two products for vole control are permitted by the authorities, reports NAK, however, these substances can only be applied within the burrows following a prior registration request. They cannot be used for surface treatments.

NAK concludes that these are ineffective in the struggle to stop voles’ proliferation and the chamber is requesting that the authorities legalize the use of other agents in order to stop further devastation of crops by the rodents.

However, the National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH) warned that surface treatment against voles with chemical agents would pose considerable risk, both to the environment as well as human health. NÉBIH highlighted in a press release that if a product containing chlorophacinone (an anticoagulant) were to not only be present in the inhabited burrows of voles but also in external areas, it could lead to the mortality of various other animals, including small mammals and even birds of prey, in the surrounding environment. Complete surface treatment using the anticoagulant could have global consequences, and it poses a danger to human health. Ingesting, coming into contact with the skin, or inhaling it could have fatal effects. Due to these high-risk factors, the authorities do not permit complete surface treatment with the anticoagulant.

Bread price hike marks permanent increase

Agrá reported this week that bread prices will probably continue to be high in Hungary in the foreseeable future. Average bread prices are now at or above €2,6/kg, with various factors contributing to the high price.

The average price of bread was €0.9 in 2020 and €1.71 in 2022. Bread prices have gradually increased since 2016, however, this increase became steeper in 2020, with a sudden spike in both the white and half-whole-wheat (half-brown) categories. Agrá highlights that although the producer price of wheat decreased after the harvest this year, wheat flour prices are 75-80% higher than two years ago. József Septe, head of the Bakers’ Alliance has confirmed to the news portal that even higher bread prices can be expected in the future.

Bread consumption figures vary across Hungary, with the average per capita consumption being 36 kg/year in Central Hungary and 58 kg/year in the Southern Great Plains. Aside from white and half-brown (half-whole-wheat), a number of bread varieties are popular in Hungary, including seeded, whole-grain, rye, and various flavored types. Moreover the popularity of artisan breads made from wheat flour from ecologically friendly cereals like emmer, spelt and einkorn is also steadily increasing. Also, sustainable and healthy diets are becoming more popular, while in the past two decades, bread consumption has steadily declined in Hungary.

Ministry to focus on poultry sector

At a recent conference organized on the occasion of World Egg Day, Agriculture Minister István Nagy has stated that there must be a unified response to questions about industrial livestock farming with cooperation from the perspectives of science, breeding and feeding. The minister also added that in in 2022, the 550 egg-producing farms in Hungary produced approximately 2.4 billion eggs in total.

Mr. Nagy further commented that as part of the Rural Development Program, the government has provided support for 596 site development projects in the entire poultry sector, amounting to more than €490.8 million. Mr. Nagy added that animal welfare support for egg-laying chickens continues to be an important form of assistance for the egg industry. This is a priority within the Strategic Plan for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) extending until 2027.

According to the minister, in the near future, there will be subsidies for pandemic prevention, genetic preservation, and animal welfare support. To achieve these goals, €1.26 billion has been allocated for the development of agricultural facilities in the Common Agricultural Policy Strategic Plan. There will be €20 million available for investments that support pandemic prevention measures.