ECONOMY

Something sour about ‘Greek’ dairy products

Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou is to be commended for having taken on, in earnest, the task of bolstering conditions of competitiveness and promoting market deregulation while also ensuring consumer protection. The ministry this week announced that inspectors had found that 95 percent of legumes sold in Greece are imported but branded as Greek. The consumer is easily deceived because imported legumes are much cheaper. Eight companies, including supermarkets selling under private labels, were involved. Papathanassiou said inspections will intensify, particularly on meat products, where incidents of profiteering are certain to proliferate during the upcoming Easter period, with lambs imported from neighboring countries sold as Greek, just as has been found with French and Dutch beef. Milk is another serious issue that needs attention. Greek milk is the most expensive in the EU and imports are huge. According to an October 2004 survey, a liter of fresh milk cost 1.13 euros in Greece, 0.65 euros in the Netherlands and Germany, 0.85 euros in Ireland and Spain, and 0.74 euros in the UK. There is surely great scope for the Competition Commission in this field. But the most outrageous thing in this affair is that the high cost of milk is justified by the myth that it is domestically produced. Participants in a recent farm animal veterinary conference in Thessaloniki told Kathimerini of a report that 50 percent of dairy products consumed are imported. The value of imported milk and fresh cream alone stood at $283 million in 2003. The key question, therefore, is how much the consumer loses in the marketing of all milk as Greek at higher prices than is warranted by cheap imports. Of course, the Greek dairy industry is a dynamic, export-oriented sector and it would be a pity to see it lose out to more imports. On the other hand, there can be no excuse for deceiving consumers. According to the same sources, milk that is imported from Parmalat’s Hungarian arm needs at least five days to arrive in Greece from the time it is milked. It is then pasteurized for a second time, mixed with Greek milk and dated to expire in five days. In most other EU countries, pasteurized milk is dated to last 10-11 days. In Greece, the dairy manufacturers have managed to have this period reduced by law to five days. This results in a serious swelling of distribution costs and creates a barrier to cheaper imports – in a classic case of protectionism.