Malta kunserva qualifies for EU aid
The European Commission has declared kunserva to be a traditional, well-defined Maltese product, stating that tomatoes used in its production should be eligible for EU aid.
Issued just days before tomato pressing begins, the regulation practically lays down what had already been negotiated by the government prior to accession, namely that Maltese farmers will receive subsidies for each kilo of tomatoes they produce.
Defining kunserva as "the product obtained by concentrating tomato juice, obtained directly from fresh tomatoes, containing added sugar and salt, having a dry matter content of 28 per cent to 36 per cent, packed in hermetically sealed containers labelled kunserva and falling within CN code ex 2002 90", the regulation listed the ingredients of the product: common salt (sodium chloride), natural spices, aromatic herbs and their extracts, and natural aromas.
"Furthermore, in the case of kunserva, sugar shall be added, representing between eight per cent and 25 per cent by weight of the finished product," the regulation specified, going into the nitty-gritty of what additives should be added and in what quantities.
John Magro, managing director of Magro Brothers (Foods) Ltd, which has a 65 per cent share of the tomato processing market, welcomed the regulation and said it was "very important for Maltese tomato producers and even for the processing industry".
"The regulation brings Malta at par with other EU tomato-producing farmers. It is a major step towards making the local industry more competitive in the EU market," he said.
Mr Magro explained that EU recognition of kunserva as a well-defined Maltese product would be beneficial to all stakeholders. "Even if farmers benefit directly, the EU aid will enable them to provide quality produce to the processors. Quality is what processors want to focus on because that is what the consumer is after," said Mr Magro.
Raising quality was the main challenge of the Maltese tomato industry and this regulation would be beneficial both directly and indirectly, he explained.
Every year, processors contract farmers to buy their produce for processing. Last February, Magro Brothers contracted 25 per cent more tomatoes than the company had bought in 2003. Tomatoes are to be picked in the coming days and pressing will follow immediately.
Mr Magro said that in Malta, as in no other country in Europe, tomatoes were handpicked. "This makes it possible to choose tomatoes that are better quality. Another advantage is that tomatoes are processed and bottled within 24 hours from picking."
Maltese tomatoes, he said, had a unique taste and with more focus on the quality of produce, Malta could further exploit its export potential.
Mr Magro said the target was to phase out imported tomatoes and to process only locally produced ones. He said that since the prices of imported tomato products went down after May 1, people were still opting for locally produced equivalents because of the better taste.
Six hundred farmers on 4,500 tumoli of land produced around 9,000 tonnes of tomatoes last year.
Another two registered processors of tomatoes operate in Malta.