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Georgian Hazelnut – Health Hazard or Recognized Georgian Brand in Europe?

Only two cases of excessive aflatoxin were registered in Georgian Hazelnut in 2017, the statement by Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia reads. The statement was released to react to information as if Georgian Hazelnut cannot be exported to EU market because of excessive aflatoxin.

Aflatoxin in a scientifically-approved carcinogen and it creates preconditions for provoking cancer. Georgian product included in RASFF system in 2016 was found with excessive norm of aflatoxin.

Tengiz Kalandadze, head of Agriculture Ministry department for agriculture products, noted that only a small volume of exported Hazelnut may be violating the legislation standards.

As reported, according to EU food safety network operation, not only product documentations are examined at the state border (from the country of origin), but also the product in itself. If suspicious content is detected, information is transmitted to the center in Brussels. The data are examined there repeatedly and if the hazard is confirmed, the signal is transmitted to all European countries.

Kalandadze explained that, for example, last year 9 cases of excessive aflatoxin were registered, 0.5% of total exports volume. This year only two cases of disapproval were registered, he said.

“In this case aflatoxin exceeds the norm in a very small volume. Under the EU legislation, 5 micrograms are admitted in 1 kilogram of Hazelnut, while in the USA this norm is twice higher. This year the disapproved cargo was examined anew, however, some of them were not found with excessive norm of aflatoxin. In this case our entrepreneurs have the right for two operations. 1) First – distilling oil from very polluted Hazelnut, in case of comparatively small volume; 2) mixing healthy Hazelnut after which aflatoxin parameters will satisfy standards», Kalandadze said.

How competitive is Georgian Hazelnut on exports markets? Are all international standards protected in Georgia? Kalandadze said that a lot of job should be performed in this respect. There are companies on the market with modern drying systems and their products are competitive on international markets.

Several components are required to receive high-quality products, including timely trimming, spraying, picking, drying, storing of Hazelnut, Kalandadze noted.

«The full chain should be controlled and the Ministry will do it. Georgian Hazelnut would not enter European market if it did not satisfy European standards», Kalandadze noted.

Farmers have introduced internal control mechanisms, because they know their products cannot satisfy standards and they will bear losses, he noted.

Hazelnut exporters categorically reject spread information as if Georgian Hazelnut has been banned on European market. Georgian Hazelnut is a perceptible brand in Europe, the farmers noted.

Iveri Kvaratskhelia, head of Nakifu 2014 Hazelnut manufacturing cooperative, explains that aflatoxin level in Hazelnut grows in case of invaluable drying and spoilage process. If a farmer stores product due to standards, the mentioned substance cannot exceed the verge, he noted.

«We dry the product in natural way and this depends on weather conditions. In rainy weather the spoilage threat grows. We need special drying facilities», Kvaratskhelia noted.

National Food Agency permanently examines Hazelnut before exports. Hazelnut technical regulations were enacted a month ago and these regulations are to improve Hazelnut quality, he said.

«Our revenues directly depend on quality», Kvaratskhelia said.

In response to the question whether Georgian Hazelnut satisfies international standards and is competitive in relation to imported products, Kvaratskhelia noted that there are certain problems.

The process is improved. Nobody cared for quality previously, while now farmers have to ensure high quality. Today market demands for high-quality products, Kvaratskhelia said.

The sector had problems in terms of education. Thanks to government’s involvement, this problem is being solved stage by stage, he added.

It will be wonderful if the country arranges drying systems to store Hazelnut in civilized forms. Farmers need due volume of investments, he said.

Currently, the company does not export Hazelnut and sells product on domestic market. The cooperative owns 47 hectares of Hazelnut plantations.

Jener Belkania, director of Agro-Expo Georgia company, noted that information about disapproved Georgian Hazelnut in Europe is misinformation. The company started Hazelnut exports to Europe 20 years ago.

“I was angry to have heard this misinformation, because Georgian Hazelnut is a brand. Trust my experience. We have been exporting Georgian Hazelnut to Europe for several years. Aflatoxin may be genuinely detected in the product, but in small volumes, because the state provides strict control over the issue”, he noted.

Mamuka Beriashvili, member of board of association of Hazelnut processing and exports companies and founder of NUT.GE company, noted that aflatoxin level is in norm in Georgian Hazelnut. This is a very negative PR and these statements are made by ignorant and incompetent people. Sometimes, this substance exceeds norm 10 and 20 times in Azerbaijani and Turkish Hazelnut, but this factor has never created problem, he said.

“All countries have set their own admissible norm. Aflatoxin group in Europe is determined by 10 micrograms in 1 kilogram. Previously, this indicator was 1 or 2. In Europe 5 and 10 micrograms in 1 kilogram of Hazelnut is not considered as health hazard. Similar threats may arise if a person eats more than 10 kilogram Hazelnut diseased with aflatoxin”, Beriashvili said.

Today Georgian Hazelnut is a brand and competes with Turkish, Azerbaijani and Spanish Hazelnut. Today price of Georgian Hazelnut is higher, as compared to Turkish and Azerbaijani Hazelnut, he added.

«When Europeans buy Georgian Hazelnut, they are not afraid of aflatoxin. Europeans often say that they prefer Georgian Hazelnut», Beriashvili said.

The company exports Hazelnut to a lot of countries, including European, Asian and African countries.

Neodi Otkhozoria, head of TAIA 2014 cooperative, noted that the company owns 20 hectare Hazelnut plantations in Chkhorotsku District for many years and the company processes Hazelnut. Because of small volumes and finances, the company cannot export products, while Georgian Hazelnut fully satisfies European standards and its is competitive product, he noted.

Hazelnut must be stored due to standards to maintain Aflatoxin in due norms. I mean drying systems that many farmers do not have, Otkhozoria noted.

‘When we pick Hazelnut, we dry it and sell it to buyers. We do not have drying systems, because they require serious finances», Otkhozoria said.

Irakli Chikava, commercial director of  Agro Solutions agro consulting company, noted that various substances may be defected in any product, but this fact does not result in any restrictions for a country. Detection of similar diseases in products are bad, but this is not alarming and this does not signify Georgian Hazelnut will never go to exports markets, Chikava said.

Georgian farmers should realize that this disease should be prevented thanks to permanent control. «This is additional challenge for Georgian farmers and valuable control will bring everything in order», Chiakava said.

Today, education is a key challeng in the sector. Even financial resources are useless without due knowledge, he said.

According to Geostat, national statistics service of Georgia, Hazelnut is one of the leading exports items in Georgia. In 2016 the product was recorded in top five exports items.