State inspections reveal feta of dubious quality

There was one positive outcome to the case of dairy producer Kolios, accused of exporting feta infected with listeria to Norway as well as promoting under the name of feta some of its products that have no relation to the traditional Greek cheese: It spurred the relevant public service officials into action. Up until now, checks on the composition of feta produced across the country have been either scarce or non-existent, as orders for them to be carried out would get lost in a maze of bureaucracy and clashes over competencies. In any case, 12 of the 13 labels submitted to the Development Ministry by Kolios were found to pose problems. The branding does not meet the requirements of existing legislation and, as a result, the Hellenic Food Authority (EFET) is to bring criminal proceedings against the company for allegedly misleading the consumer by promoting as feta a cheese produced from cow’s milk. Strict and thorough checks on the retail trade – to determine to what extent labeling products as feta is legally viable – have gotten under way this week, according to Christina Papanikolaou, EFET’s president. Inspections «The inspections will focus on the cheeses produced by the firm in question (Kolios) but will also examine the composition of cheese produced by other firms,» Papanikolaou told Kathimerini. Often products that have no relation to cheese at all are sold as cheese due to technological developments that allow the creation of various imitation products. «This does not constitute a threat to public health but certainly counts as a case of misleading the consumer,» Papanikolaou stressed. Checks are also due to be carried out on cheese produced at Kolios’s factory. Indeed, Papanikolaou confirmed that a document prepared by the prefectural authorities of Kilkis states that Kolios’s local factory premises have temporarily closed in order for the inspections to be carried out – a claim that the dairy producer has refuted. Problems It should be borne in mind that Kolios has recently won the tender to buy the cooperative dairy Agno from the Agricultural Bank – a transaction whose details were queried by opposition New Democracy in Parliament. The matter of the composure of feta is very significant, especially as the cheese in question was recently reclassified as a «regulated label of origin,» signifying that it can henceforth only be produced in Greece using sheep’s milk or a mix of sheep’s and goat’s milk. However, EFET only started checks on the composition of feta from May 23, after the signing of a joint ministerial decision determining competencies with regard to the inspections. According to EFET, around 30 samples of dairy products were submitted to tests – 15 of which are cheese samples. Of these, only one feta sample showed problems in its composition, resulting in penalties for the firm that produced it. Greece produces a total of 200,000 tons of cheese every year – 90 percent of which is been produced from sheep and goat’s milk (annual feta production stands at 130,000 tons), according to Agriculture Ministry statistics. Greek cheese accounts for 80 percent of domestic cheese consumption in the country, with the average per capita annual cheese consumption at 22 kilos. Greeks spend 8 percent of their food shopping budget on cheese. The production of cheese yields 1.02 billion euros annually, about half the revenues of the dairy industry.

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