Hungary: Meat consumption affected by economic hardships

Farmers' protest organized on Ukraine border; new figures show Hungary's foreign trade deficit; grocery retail trade declined; beekeepers get new support - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Hungary

A man is browsing at the counter of a meat vendor at the Grand Market Hall in Budapest.
Beeld: ©Zoltán Szászi

Biogas trade mission to Serbia and Hungary

Biomass accounts for 61% of the renewable energy potential in Serbia but only 2% is actually utilized. At the same time, the generation of biogas can provide farmers with an alternative source of income. In order to explore the potential of renewable sources of energy from agriculture, forest based and other waste , the Dutch Embassies in Serbia and Hungary organized a joint trade mission for Dutch companies to the region. Participating in the mission were representatives of the New Energy Coalition, Perpetual Next, Regazz, Torrgas, VARO, the Waste Transformers and Mavitec Green Energy and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

The event paired major local stakeholders with the Dutch counterparts. The Serbian Biogas Association, the Ministry of Energy and the Serbian Energy Utility Company presented the market potential in producing biogas and biofuels  as well as areas for potential cooperation, whilst Mr Kees Kwant from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency and Mr Ruud Paap from the New Energy Coalition shared the Dutch perspective and experience in the field of biogas to the Serbian biogas business community. The delegation furthermore met with a representation from the  UNDP, where representatives of municipalities of Kikinda, Subotica and Sremska Mitrovica, which are supported by UNDP, presented their ideas to  use organic waste for biogas production.  Besides UNDP’s support to the municipalities, it will commission a study providing further insights into the potential and bottlenecks in the further development of biogas and biomethane in Serbia.

The mission underlined the potential in the region and pave the way for increased cooperation on the topic with Dutch public and private partners.

Meat product consumption changes show effect of economic hardships

Agrá has recently published a report on the changes in Hungarians’ meat consumption habits, showing the effects of economic difficulties. Tamás Éder, head of the Hungarian Meat Alliance and of the Conscious Food Producers Alliance, told the portal: “Over the past 1.5 years, it has generally been observed that some of the consumers who previously purchased more expensive products have also switched to slightly cheaper groceries, even within the same category.” The expert also commented that, “In Western Europe, those opting for flexitarian and vegetarian diets have carved out a significantly larger portion of the market than here. I believe that the decrease we've experienced in the past 1.5 years primarily stems from income and price situations, rather than lifestyle changes. The significant shift came from consumers being forced to be more mindful of their wallets.”

The emergence of African swine fever six years ago posed a very serious problem not only for pig breeders but also for the processing industry, reports the portal. Despite the virus appearing only in wild game populations, Hungary lost a significant portion of its export markets.

Another issue is that the continuous decrease in the pig population Agrá reports, which turns to stagnation in better years, and which forces the Hungarian meat industry to import raw materials for meat products. In 2022, serious food price increases began across Europe, including in Hungary, and this trend was often observed in 2023 as well. This is why it may be surprising that for several meat products, the consumer prices in December 2022 and 2023 practically match.

Protest on the Ukraine-Hungary border organized by farmers’ alliances

The National Chamber of Agriculture (NAK), together with the Hungarian Farmers’ Association (MAGOSZ), which is headed by István Jakab, is organizing a farmers’ protest in Záhony, where major border crossings into Ukraine are located.

MAGOSZ has announced that they are supporting “the demands of Western European farmers who are also affected by the measures of their own governments.” The organization is also praising the Hungarian government for various measures: “Among other things, the reimbursement of excise tax on diesel fuel has been ensured for us both in the past and in the future; the tax system for family farms and smallholders is unique in Europe; we have prohibited the possibility of imposing land tax; our country was the first to close its borders to Ukrainian agricultural imports, despite the decision of the European Commission.”

Previously, Mr. Jakab, who is also Fidesz MEP and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, announced that farmers would protest at the Záhony border crossing against the decision of the European Commission, “which would allow duty-free imports of Ukrainian crops for another year.”

Hungary’s foreign trade in deficit after ten months in December

The news portal reports, based on the latest data by the Central Statistical Office, that last December, the value of exports from Hungary was 7.8% lower, while imports were 8.6% lower compared to December, 2022. As a result, the trade balance was negative again after ten months.

Based on KSH’s analysis, the portal reports that the decrease was driven by a fall in export in November by 20%, while imports in the month only declined by 7.6%.

The value of exports was €10.4 billion, while imports amounted to €10.5 billion. According to the report from the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH), Hungary conducted 75% of its exports and 66% of its imports with EU member states. The difference is primarily explained by Russian energy imports and Chinese imports, as indicated by the data from 2022.

Grocery trade declined by 0.2% y-o-y in December

According to new data by the Central Statistical Office (KSH), the volume of grocery retail trade decreased by 0.2% (adjusted) compared to December 2022. In food and food-related mixed stores, sales volume increased by 1.3%, while in fuel retail, it increased by 3.8%. However, in non-food retail, the sales volume decreased by 3.0%. Overall, the sales volume of non-food retail decreased by 3.0%.

49% of the national retail turnover is realized in food and food-related mixed stores, 37% in non-food retail, and 14% in the fuel sales of gas stations. Compared to the previous year, in 2023, the volume of retail trade decreased by 7.9% (adjusted). Specifically, sales volume declined by 4.6% in food and food-related mixed retail, by 6.4% in non-food retail, and by 19.5% in fuel retail.

New support for beekeepers

The Hungarian Animal Breeders Association reports that new grants for apiculture producers have been published. A statement regarding the agricultural de minimis support available for beekeeping vehicles in 2024, as well as the conditions for accessing crisis support for maintaining the health condition of bee populations in 2024, has been published by the government. The total envelope for the grants is €2.5 million.