At the beginning of this year, a reform of the food industry was launched. The idea of the reform is to put the State veterinary and sanitary service of Ukraine in full charge of the quality and safety control of food products in the country. However, for the reform to come into force the MPs must adopt a corresponding draft bill on amendments to the law on product safety. In an interview with the head of the State veterinary and sanitary service of Ukraine Volodymyr Gotzheyev ForUm has learned about new order in the food industry, about epidemic breakouts of animal diseases and about general situation of import/export of meat.

- After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine's borders were open for all kind of goods, and consequently for all kinds of human and animal diseases. Do we have enough specialists and are they ready to meet new challenges?

- Back in the Soviet Union times the veterinary medicine was wide-range and oriented to servicing production animals (pigs, horses, cows, etc.) Today, apart from wide-range specialists, there is a demand for veterinary pharmacologists, biotechnologist, vets for small pets, sanitarians and others. There is no deficit of vets in Ukraine. I would say the market is oversupplied. There are 12 vet faculties in Ukraine with 1.5 thousand graduates annually. In addition, global changes in the society force practicing specialists to reeducate, and this gives us another 2.3-2.5 thousand vets annually.
- Despite all this, there are still villages without veterinaries, as young specialists do not want to go there. Is it possible to change the situation?

- Unfortunately, the State service has no influence on this. On one hand, a village is 'fertile territory' for a young specialist, and he can gain some experience there. On the other hand, there is a social side of this issue. I must admit the state cannot solve the housing issues. Employment of a young vet must be considered within the staff policy for the agrarian sector. Ukraine needs a state program, providing for proper housing conditions and decent salaries for vets in villages.

- Russia has been fighting the African swine fever for a while now. In the end of July, the disease got to Ukraine, namely Zaporizhya region. What do you do to protect Ukrainians?

- First, I want to say that the African swine fever poses no threat to humans. As for the animals, though, almost all infected units die. It is necessary to kill all pigs, which may be infected. I have issued an order, providing for the quarantine on the territory of Zaporizhya region, as well as temporary suspension of export of domestic and wild pigs, as well as their meat and meat products.
- Has the breakout of the fever caused significant damage to meat export in general?
- It has indeed. Our neighbors close borders for domestic production. However, these measures are a standard procedure. Ukraine can introduce similar bans if there is a breakout in this or that country. Moldova, for example, almost does not buy Ukrainian production. For the first five months of this year, we imported 27 tons of pork, which one truck, basically. Hence, the Moldova's ban on import of Ukrainian pork is formal.

- How did the disease get to Ukraine's territory?

- The infection is transmitted through body contact, meat products, insects or wild animals, as well as by humans or even vehicles.

I want to point out that customs officials of the Ukrainian-Russian border check all travelers for food products. If they find sausage or meat, the products go directly to utilization.
- What about other viruses - swine flu, bird flu? Do they pose any threat to Ukraine?

- The swine flu did not touch Ukrainian pigs back in 2008 and poses no threat today. I can assure you of this. As for the bird flu, the main carriers are birds, so there is always a risk.
- In Soviet times tuberculosis among domestic animals was a serious threat to people. What is the situation today?

- Tuberculosis is the problem #1 for people. Ukraine is officially recognized as a country with tuberculosis epidemic. More than 20 people die of tuberculosis every day.

Indeed, 20 years ago animals used to infect people with tuberculosis, nowadays it is vice versa - owners infect their animals. However, there are no grounds for panic. All cattle stocks of the public sector have been checked and cleared. We have only three unfortunate farms, but I believe the problem will be solved by the yearend.
- How is the situation with leucosis among cattle in Ukraine?

- There were years when many farms suffered cattle leucosis. Vets conducted huge amount of work to save the situation, including millions of tests and separation of stocks. For today there are only 10 unfortunate farms left in the public sector. In private sector, however, there are still unfortunate animals in 23 regions of Ukraine. For private farmers this issue will be a problem for some time.
- Some ecologists warn that fish in Ukrainian rivers is infected with helminthes. Is it true?

- There are 18 principal parasitic diseases of the fish in fresh waters of Ukraine. For this year, we have inspected 280.7 thousand fishes and found only 2.3 thousand sick ones. It is less than 1%. Moreover, we have not found any dangerous for humans helminthes.

- According to the new reform, the State veterinary and sanitary service of Ukraine will be the only one in full charge of the quality and safety control over food products in the country. What's the point?

- It is an absolutely new model, similar to the relevant services in the EU and the world. There will be only one agency to follow the whole process from the beginning till the very end. We are not supposed to inspect products at the output, but to conduct inspections during the production process. We must know where the plants were cultivated, what kind of soil was used, whether pesticides and herbicides were used. The same thing concerns animal - what they eat and of what quality. We must follow the heath of production animals, must control the quality of meat and milk and the very processing of raw materials at enterprises.

Earlier, the whole chain was under control of the State sanitary service, while the ready products were inspected by other agencies. It was inconvenient and complicated the work of producers.
Now, if the parliament adopts the amendments, the State sanitary service will become the only agency responsible for product safety, starting with the field and further to your table.
- What about quality?

- Quality is a characteristic of food products, which may satisfy or not satisfy the needs of consumers. Quality is a responsibility of producers, not of the state. If consumers do not like the product, a producer will lose the competition.
- But a number of producers intentionally decrease the quality in order to save the production costs, using numerous additives, colorants and other synthetic ingredients. How can consumers protect themselves?

- I want to clarify one thing: there is product quality and product safety. For example, you come to a supermarket and see 10 types of milk from 10 different producers. All this milk is safe. It is our job. As for the quality, consumers should read information about the product, namely its ingredients.
- What about the control over infant food, especially imported one?

- The control over infant food has always been tougher. In particular, raw materials used for production of infant food are produced in special regions. The register of these regions is under control of Agricultural Policy Ministry of Ukraine. As for the imported goods, before giving the license for import we conduct thorough investigation of the producer - what financing it has, whether it uses medicine in production, etc. It's not a problem to build a super enterprise somewhere in Africa, but the problem is the safety of raw materials, health of animals, etc. Ukraine will never buy goods, potentially dangerous for our consumers. Ban imposed on Belarusian animal production is a good example. In March, we discovered that Belarusian dairy products contained antibiotics. We had to inspect the enterprises and hold talks with the Belarusian side. As a result, they agreed with our demands regarding the safety standards, and we resumed the import of Belarusian products in Ukraine.

- In the beginning of July your service banned import of Brazilian pork, when discovered mold in the meat. Will your specialists go to Brazil to inspect enterprises?

- The process of mutual audit between vet services of country-partners is continuous and can be carried out in various forms. Brazil or Belarus, there are no exceptions. For the moment, we are exchanging information and holding consultations. If there is a necessity to go, our specialists will fly to Brazilian enterprises to conduct inspections. It all depends on mutual contacts, agreements and necessity.

Alina Yeremeyeva, photos by Viktor Kovalchuk


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