NEWS

Moldy yogurt dips authorities into hot water

What began with the removal of moldy yogurt from stores earlier this month, yesterday turned into a major political and legal issue as two senior members of the state food watchdog resigned, a prosecutor launched an investigation and the European Commission criticized Greece because consumers were apparently kept in the dark about the tainted products. The government accepted the resignations of Nikos Katsaros and Christos Apostolopoulos, the president and general manager respectively of the Hellenic Food Authority (EFET) after the organization came under a flurry of criticism for not informing the Development Ministry about a problem involving a batch of yogurt made by Greek dairy foods giant FAGE. The company said it had withdrawn some 350,000 pots of its Total brand yogurt from the market by March 15 after receiving complaints from customers in February that mold was appearing on the surface of the product well before the expiry date. The problem was traced back to a production line fault. Total yogurt is one of the company’s most successful products and is exported to a number of European countries. EFET had been in touch with FAGE, Greece’s largest dairy products exporter, since the beginning of March about the matter and conducted checks on the firm’s production facilities between March 21 and 23 to make sure the problem had been ironed out. However, the Development Ministry said that it knew nothing until this week. In its statement confirming the resignation of Katsaros and Apostolopoulos, the ministry said that they had to go because there was an «unacceptable delay» from the time EFET was made aware of the problem until the time it conducted checks, and that the watchdog had failed to inform government officials and consumers promptly. EFET’s apparent sluggishness in reacting also meant that Greece fell afoul of the EU Rapid Alert System, which allows member states to share information when food products that present a serious risk to the health and safety of consumers are identified.  This drew criticism from Philip Tod, Commission spokesman for health and consumer protection, who demanded that Greek authorities confirm to the EU today that consumer health had not been put at risk and that affected pots of yogurt had not been exported to other member states. Athens public prosecutor Dimitris Papangelopoulos also launched a preliminary investigation into the case, to establish whether there were grounds to bring charges against FAGE or EFET.