The Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) has stepped up control measures concerning seasonal farm produce including berries and other fresh fruit, as well as vegetables, in the wake of media reports that such goods have recently been imported, then passed off as local produce at market stalls.
VTA food department head Kairi Ramjalg told BNS that the nationwide move means more spot checks are to be carried out at points of sale.
"The aim is to ensure that accurate information is provided about fresh produce offered at stalls. For instance, information must be supplied on goods' countries of origin," Ramjalg said.
At present, markets in the more populous Harju, Pärnu, and Tartu Counties, as well as Valga County, have been subject to the checks.
"We also draw vendors' attention to the requirement of transport documents which tally with the validity requirements available at the point of sale. Goods must be traceable, and their origin certifiable," Ramjalg added.
The VAT takes measures every year to check seasonal produce, and its consistency with requirements. The authority conducts targeted checks, meaning vendors' documents and point of sale information is checked at markets, fairs and similar, VTA spokespersons said.
The matter even raised its head at the government's weekly press conference Thursday, with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) calling for better information to consumers, and agricultural minister Mart Järvik (EKRE) announcing the VTA's involvement.
Media allegations said that strawberries in particular had been the object of suspicion, with produce from Riga, Latvia, potentially being transported overnight to Estonian markets, and sold as Estonian fare. Both countries are in the Schengen Zone of free movement, which stretches unbroken into Lithuania and Poland, and means border checks are not normally carried out.
Market stalls selling strawberries and other berries are a common sight outside shopping centers, supermarkets, at roadsides and other locations in summer. As strawberry season draws to a close, prices have been creeping up, and are reportedly now generally above €4 per kg.
Editor: Andrew Whyte