The FINANCIAL — It’s difficult to buy Georgian potatoes and tomatoes in Tbilisi today. Such products are twice as expensive as products imported from Turkey, which is the main supplier of Georgia.
Consumers say imported products are not safe for health as they contain pesticides.
Supermarkets and small shops don't provide any information about the origin of the products offered. Sellers never say that their products are imported from Turkey because it can harm their business. Try to ask sellers about the origin of potatoes or tomatoes on sale. The answer is always the same: «From Akhalkalaki», «from Akhaltsikhe» «from Adigeni». These are Georgian regions bordering Turkey. As people at the markets say, products from these regions are exported to Turkey, and in exchange, Turks are importing low quality products to Georgia.
In fact, vegetables are imported from Turkey, says Amiran Shengelia, Director of International Organization of Protecting Consumers’ Rights.
People often address this organization about the quality of products they buy at the markets and supermarkets.
“One can rarely buy Georgian potatoes in Tbilisi”, Shengelia says. “It depends on sellers’ conscientiousness. Turkish potatoes cost cheaper. But selling of such products is more profitable as sometimes they are sold at the same price as products produced in Georgia. Unfortunately, people prefer to save money by purchasing low quality products. It’s very difficult to control quality and nobody does it,” says Amiran Shengelia.
Potatoes in Georgia are quite expensive considering the average salary statistics in the country: 1 kg of potatoes costs GEL 2 (1.30 USD) almost the same as in EU countries. 1 kg of Georgian produced tomatoes costs GEL 4.5 and the Turkish produced – GEL 2-3.
National Service of Food Safety, Veterinary and Plant Protection has to control quality of products sold in Georgia. But they refuse to make any comments about this issue to The FINANCIAL, saying that the Service has the right to refuse and does not explain their reasons.
How to determine which product is healthy and which is grown on nitrates?
Shengelia says it is easy to distinguish Turkish potatoes. They are yellow because farmers use nitrates. Vegetables are imported in sacks and they are clean. As vegetable washers aren’t in Georgia, sellers deliberately make them muddy by filling cars with potatoes. This way they look like Georgian ones.
International Organization of Protecting Rights also heard of some cases when citizens said that Turkish vegetables are sold as the Georgian. Now the organization is working to master staff and start activities against it.
“We receive many calls from citizens informing us about Turkish vegetables or fruits sold at supermarkets as Georgian produced products. But sellers hide such products before we visit them, or they just do not provide the information about the origin of the products”, says Madona Koidze, Director of Consumers Federation.
“It’s very difficult to fight against this problem. Everyone has right to import and sell what they want. Here main problem is that sellers hide information and consumers don’t know about products’ safety and quality,” she believes.
The crop protection substances, commonly known as pesticides, will be monitored in the production, export, import and application phases according to the Crop Protection Products Control Regulation that was printed in the Turkish Official Gazette last week.
The companies having the license for the products on the market will be responsible for ensuring that the product is present on the market at sufficient levels.
According to the terms of the regulation, the crop protection substances must bear a label saying the market launch of the product was authorized by the ministry; any product not carrying such a label will be removed from the market until their production, export and import is also banned.
According to Zurab Putkaradze, Director of Health World, main problem is weak control at the customs.
“We can’t say in general that Turkish product is unhealthy”, Zurab Putkaradze says.
“But 80-90 % of imported Turkish fruits and vegetables are of poor quality and their real price is very low. Prices on our market are high. Everyone just thinks of making as much money as possible,” says Zurab Putkaradze.
Supermarkets Goodwill and Populi say that they sell imported vegetables from November till May, while there is no harvest in Georgia.
Products are imported mainly from Turkey. They are not labeled as imported, so consumers are not informed until she/he asks for that.
Eka Pilauri, Categories’ Manager at Populi, says that they sell imported vegetables and fruits only in winter and they cost 50 % higher during this period. But Georgian products are four times more expensive.
According to the National Statistics Service of Georgia, in 2009 production of potatoes in Georgia was 216 000 tones, 18 000 tones were imported and only one was exported.
Production of other vegetables in 2009 was 170 000 tones, exported– 5 000 tones, and imported – 59 000 tones.