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Ketchup vs coal

World Coal,

Heinz – one of the best-known brands of ketchup around the world – has objected to a proposed lignite coal mine to be built in Poland.

Polish energy company, ZE PAK SA, hopes to build a mine and 1000 MW coal plant over 11 900 ha. of land. However, the land in question includes acres of farmland used to grow tomatoes and sugar beet used by Heinz to produce Heinz Ketchup for UK supermarket shelves.

The food processing company has now united with local campaign groups set up in opposition to the proposed coal mine.

Heinz, the region’s biggest employer, has been at the forefront of corporate objectors to the mine. The firm’s factory in the area depends on the crops grown by local farmers in the Krobia and Miejska Górka region for its products – a quarter of which are exported to other countries. The UK is its biggest export destination.

“The coal mine would negatively affect Heinz’s business activities as well as the entire economic ecosystem of the region,” said Leszek Wenderski, the factory’s quality manager.

Heinz bought the factory from the 100-year-old Polish household brand Pudliszki in 1997 and both firms use locally grown tomatoes, sweetcorn, green peas and sugar beet in tinned and bottled products, such as Heinz Ketchup and baked beans.

“We will have to buy produce from outside this region if the plant is built,” said Slawomir Paszkier, the Heinz/Pudliszki site manager. “For some crops that won’t be possible. Teaching new potential growers is also a long process, and not as profitable.”

Unions representing workers at the Heinz factory have also backed the campaign against the coal mine, because Heinz has suggested there is “a very big danger of job losses” if the mine goes ahead.

Sales might also be affected because “we are thought of as a green region and a coalmine could impact on our brand image,” Paszkier said. More than anything though, the company fears water depletion, pollution and land degradation.

According to the Articles of Association of ZE PAK SA, the basic line of business is primarily the production and distribution of electricity and the production and distribution of heat.

The company produces energy from conventional sources and by the combustion and co-firing of biomass. The generation assets of the ZE PAK SA Capital Group comprise four lignite-fired plants located in central Poland, in Wielkopolska province.

They are: The Patnów II Power Plant, which is equipped with a power unit operating at supercritical parameters, the Konin Power Plant, and two plants additionally equipped with biomass co-firing systems: The Patnów I and Adamów Power Plants. In July 2012 a new power unit with a capacity of 55 MW with a dedicated biomass-fired boiler was put into commercial operation in Konin Power Plant.

According to Heinz, around Poland’s Turek and Konin mines, groundwater levels have dropped by 50 – 80 m because of mining activity, which involved the draining or diversion of rivers and tributaries, and a diminution in quality of that which remains.

The company also argues that the open circulation of cooling water caused thermal changes to groundwater reservoirs. These were also contaminated by chemicals because of the flushing and leaching of coal ash, a waste product of coal-burning during rainfalls.

However, the Krobia and Miejska Górka region holds an estimated billion tonnes of brown coal beneath its well-ploughed soil and digging it up could be a profitable affair.

Poland relies on coal for 90% of its electricity. For this reason, the fossil fuel is known as ‘black gold’. In such circumstances, the demand for energy and power could outweigh the demand for ketchup and baked beans.

Yet farmers working for Heinz have argued the loss in revenue from agricultural practices could offset the potential profits offered by coal.

Benedykt Peplinski of Poznan University said that the lost agricultural production from the proposed new mine could reach €1.3 – €2.4 billion over a 50-year period.

“Experience from previous opencast pit mines proves that after mining operations have ended, the quality and quantity of agricultural production is much lower than before because of problems with the underground water system,” he said. “For sure, 60% of the agricultural land here would be lost forever.”

With both sides currently unwilling to cede ground, it seems as though the battle between ketchup and coal will continue; at least for the time being. 

Written by Sam Dodson

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