NEWS

Inspections: Room for improvement

Two years after the foundation of the National Agency for Food Inspection (EFET), one would have expected it to have at least resolved bureaucratic problems such as the division of authority between EFET itself, which belongs to the Development Ministry, and the Agriculture Ministry, which until recently was solely responsible for food inspections. However, this has not happened as the Agriculture Ministry has yet to issue the decree that will put an end to the conflict of authority that has prevented EFET from functioning smoothly. Food samples inspected so far have not indicated the presence of anything untoward, but as EFET’s president, Christina Papanikolaou, told Kathimerini, inspections are at a level that «need improvement.» One of EFET’s most critical problems is a shortage of staff trained to carry out inspections. «Last year we advertised 30 jobs and the successful candidates only began work this year,» said Papanikolaou. Apart from the State’s usual slow pace, it is common knowledge that many Agriculture Ministry employees are unwilling to be transferred to EFET. «This is what happens when someone tries to change old mechanisms that operate in outmoded ways,» said Papanikolaou. «Imagine that in other countries, our counterpart organizations had been set up by departments of more than two ministries. To be effective, we need close cooperation between the agencies involved,» she added. Another important issue is staff training. Papanikolaou said that with the exception of the State Chemical Authority, the staff at existing institutions «are not in a position to handle the latest developments.» Therefore new staff at EFET are obliged to attend training seminars. «We are not simply an inspection authority,» said Papanikolaou. «Our goal is not to close down businesses that are breaking the law, but to help them adapt to the new conditions. It is not enough simply to inspect the end product. «New inspection mechanisms scheduled to be introduced by 2005 need to be capable of accurate detection, and that requires cooperation between the agencies involved and the businesses themselves,» he added. At the moment, however, authority is dispersed, since the Agriculture Ministry is still responsible for inspecting stables and abattoirs. The HACCP system, to be completed by 2005, will allow EFET to detect the animal a product comes from, the feed it was given and the name of the factory that produced the feed. The government’s response On the eve of the EU inspectors’ visit, Deputy Agriculture Minister Fotis Hadzimichalis pointed out that conditions at livestock farms in Greece are very different from those in other member states. «We do not have such intensive livestock breeding farms. If we did not have so much cotton, we would be able to raise a large proportion of our livestock using organic methods.» He added that if abattoirs that had been closed continued to operate, they would be sanctioned. «I am not able to force the prefectural authorities to close them but I will make a final effort, even ordering them closed, apart from those that have submitted applications to modernize,» he said.