The grey economy has dominated Latvia’s beef sales, and the companies that smuggle the meat into the country are able to provide it with legitimate paperwork, which makes combating illegal trade very difficult, Valtenbergs told local news site Nozare.lv.
Valtenbergs, who co-owns local farm Valti, said Latvian breeders had been asking law enforcement authorities to intensify their efforts in cracking down on meat smugglers since 2004, but they were refused assistance from state institutions.
“A few years ago, a smuggling business was shut down in the Saldus region, but only because the State Revenue Service learned about their unpaid taxes,” said Valtenbergs.
The head of the industry association added that, despite the problems related to the illegal meat trade, the forecast for the Latvian beef market was positive and the number of local beef cattle breeders could double over the next several years.
Meanwhile, Valtenbergs’ claims were refuted by the country’s Food and Veterinary Service (PVD). The state-run agency issued a statement in which it said similar remarks were harmful to the country’s meat industry and not supported by the available data.
“Based on our data, the allegation that 90% of the beef market consists of meat which is of unknown origin or smuggled is unfounded and misleading to consumers and undermines the prestige of producers and retailers,” the PVD said.
In 2013, the agency’s inspectors performed controls in 8,685 establishments, including warehouses, shops, supermarkets and other retail outlets. Violations of regulations on beef meat labelling and proof of origin were determined in very few cases, the PVD said. Last year, the PVD established an emergency response group which brought together officials from law enforcement agencies, with the aim of combating the illegal food trade.
Set up in 1998, the Latvian industry association represents the interests of some 64 members.