Company president of EUPPA, Kees Meijeris, yesterday told members of the European Parliament and staff members of the European Commission at the European Parliament, Brussels, the new name of the former UEITP (Union européenne des industries de transformation de pommes de terre).
Although the European potato processing industry is a young sector of the food industry, the European association was created in 1962. Since then the sector had developed to become a world player with about 12 million tonnes of potatoes (20 per cent of the total EU crop) being processed to frites, crisps, croquettes, flakes, mashed, and other potato products.
More than 25,000 employees have found a job in the industry with 550,000 tonnes of finished product being exported all over the world. Major exporters include the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium and the United States.
However the sector also has a rich tradition of marketing a wide variety of potato specialities in the various EU member states.
The first EUPPA event took place under the title ‘bringing tradition on today's plate, all over the world'. Today EUPPA represents the ‘big five' potato producers in the EU: Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and United Kingdom, as well as Austria, Italy, Poland and Sweden. It is also a member of the CIAA, Europe's food industry association.
Referreing to the UN international year of the potato in 2008, Meijer believes potato consumption is facing a promising future with the possibilities of the humble potato as a major world food staple have been illustrated. He added that, with China and India becoming the major fresh potato producing countries, a specific role was necessary for the processing industry in these areas.
During his presentation he also focused on a number of challenges which the sector is facing, in which he hopes the European Parliament and the Commission will take the role of the potato processing industry into consideration.
Although the potato crop is one of the few agricultural products which is not organised by a European market regime, Meijer fears the revision of the European agricultural policy in 2013 could neglect the specific role of this sector. Europe is highly competitive on the world market with its potato production - without any support or intervention - and EUPPA has invited the European policy makers to take this into account when new proposals are being worked out.
Furthermore he referred to the changes in the sugar regime which have affected the balance in the crop rotation of European arable farmers which the impact analysis carried out by the Commission did not consider.
The EUPPA president also referred to a number of measures in the framework of the EU quality policy for agricultural products to illustrate how they might increase the cost of the European potato products. He questioned the added value of mentioning the origin of raw potatoes on a bag of potato products, knowing that the production area of the EU is concentrated in at least four or five member states.
The European potato processing industry has provided an answer to the health questions asked by the Commission and Parliament. The use of liquid (healthier) oils in the food service has resulted in a positive effect on trans fat reduction. The industry has introduced new and healthier potato products on the market at a high speed. Oven fries, precooked fresh and half prepared products and mashed potatoes are some examples where nutrition, convenience and health have met.
Meijer discussed the current debate on the labelling of nutrition values on food products. He asked for more clarity and legal certainty regarding the labelling of certain processing aids. He added that after years of discussion it was still not clear whether the labelling of the use of pyrophosphate (to stabilise the colour of the products) is obligatory or not.
He also invited attendees to consider the question of the potato, fruit and vegetable sector (at least for a number of products) being able to communicate the nutrient benefits of the product to the consumers without having to pass a long and expensive procedure via EFSA.
One of the major issues affecting the image of the processed potato products is the appearance of acrylamide when heating of a number of starchy food stuffs. Although this issue affects other food sectors, the potato processors have tackled this problem in a proactive way. The sector has worked out - together with CIAA and the scientific world - a specific tool box to reduce the acrylamide content in its products. This toolbox has become a reference on the Commission's website. The outcome of a recent study carried out by the Ghent University on the effect of using a number of additives during the process will be presented at a seminar on 17 March in Ghent.
The EUPPA president also mentioned the participation of the potato processing industry in the current revision of the European plant health regime and the sustainable consumption and production, referring to the ambitious European SCP round table.
Finally he offered to provide transparency in the prices in the food supply chain. He concluded that the potato processing industry has become a global industry, without any interventions or subsidies, with the market as the most important driver. He hoped policy makers would enable this sector to continue its further development in the same way.
He added that EUPPA wants to take up the challenge to increase communication and collaboration with the Parliament and the Commission.