Over most of the past three years, citrus fruits in Cluj were mainly from Spain. Your zucchini might have been from Italy. Pears could be locally grown. Carrots might be from Romania, Hungary, or Holland.
This winter, it seems like five of the top supermarket chains in Cluj are importing more of their fruit and vegetables from Turkey. Other countries that have increased their exports to Romania (via our five supermarket surveys) were Brazil, Morocco, and Egypt.
Foods most likely coming from Turkey included all kinds of citrus, bell peppers, zucchini*, courgettes*, cucumbers, and even carrots. In some supermarkets, it seemed like the majority of foods (if you exclude onions and potatoes) came from Turkey. One product we have not seen from Turkey yet is bananas.
You might say that one of the motives is the French farmer strikes. Well, over the past three and a half years, the only greengrocer product we found from France was bananas. And those are not from mainland France, so it is doubtful that banana farmers are among the protestors.
Most milk in Romania seems to be locally grown, at least the things we have bought (most store brands advertise that their milk is locally grown, but Romanian brands are also popular). We did notice perhaps some imported cheeses and soups in stores like Auchan, and prepared foods in Mega Image and elsewhere, but Romania does not seem to be a major destination for French produce.
In other words, Turkish produce is not yet visibly replacing French produce. (Although Turkish carrots might be replacing Dutch carrots.)
How does this shift affect consumers?
In December, G4Media reported that Turkish grapefruits were being recalled from Carrefour because of high pesticide levels. This is not the first story we have seen about worries about Turkish fruits. The European Union has higher standards than other countries when it comes to food.
The big loser in the import switch appears to be Spain. We noticed noticeably fewer Spanish fruits and vegetables on the shelves this winter than in the previous three years. But while Dutch pears seem to be holding strong, Dutch carrots have also lost out. Romanian pears seemed to be noticeably absent, and neighboring Hungary also seems to be sending far fewer foods from its greengrocer.
Most consumers do not seem to care much about this shift. Whatever is ailing European farmers does not seem to be changing consumers’ habits.
To us, it makes little sense to punish dairy farmers for climate emissions. If European farmers stop growing cattle, cattle will only be imported from outside. Perhaps more forests will be cleared in developing countries, where pesticide laws are less strict. Overall CO2 emissions will not go down, in fact, it will likely increase as cattle, beef, and dairy products will have to be imported to meet local demands. At the moment, most dairy products especially seem to be locally grown, regulations will likely change that.
What about dairy alternatives? Rice milk is just as bad for the environment as dairy because of all the water loss to create it, it has fewer nutrients, and it doesn’t taste very good. Soy might be okay for Americans, as it is locally grown there, but much of the soy in Europe might be from newly cleared rainforests. (Again, it might be worse for the environment than cow’s milk). Hazelnut milk and hemp milk, the two most environmental alternatives, are hard to find.
If you want local fruit, there is good news. Most of the major supermarkets are selling some organic fruits and vegetables. Here, Spain, Italy, Romania, and Greece seem to be the major suppliers. In our survey of five major supermarkets in Cluj, only two fruits or vegetables had organic options from outside of the EU, avocados and bananas. We suspect that is because EU regulations on farmers are so high that it doesn’t take much to go organic, while in other countries growing organic produce requires a big change.
The supermarket with the highest percentage of Romanian-grown fruits appeared to be Profi, but it was also the most difficult one in which to find organic fruit.
Carrefour seemed to have the best deal for organic apples (grown in Romania), Auchan and Cora both made it easy to find organic fruit by having a dedicated organic section, and Kaufland seemed to have the largest proportion of organic foods in the shops we visited. However, it should be noted that not all Kauflands in Cluj are the same, nor indeed is this the case for any chain. Sometimes, you will not be able to find a certain cereal, canned fruit, bakery product, or other food in one of Cluj’s Kauflands for months, while another will have that same food stocked daily.
In any case, we think that the EU’s current policy toward farmers is highly misguided. If you want fewer CO2 emissions, then more food should be grown in Europe, not less.
If you want fewer people to consume dairy and cattle products, then money should be spent advertising dairy alternatives. Punishing farmers and consumers with higher priced (and less environmental) imports just means they will be less likely to afford the costs of being environmentally friendly in other areas of their lives.