Food safety questioned

Greece is among seven European Union countries where supermarkets were found to be selling cheese, meat and other food items contaminated with traces of industrial chemicals, the environmental group WWF said yesterday. Tests on 27 food samples taken from supermarkets in Britain, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Poland and Greece traced chemicals connected with cancer and reproductive problems. Such substances, WWF said, are normally found in items such as plastics and carpets. «The tests found potentially harmful synthetic chemicals in all of the analyzed samples, ranging from phthalates in olive oil, cheeses and meats, banned organochlorine pesticides in fish and reindeer meat, artificial musks and organotins in fish, and flame retardants in meats and cheeses,» WWF said. Meat and kefalotiri cheese samples were taken from Greek supermarkets, as part of the survey. Both items showed traces of pesticides. WWF pointed out that even though the findings do not uncover illegal behaviour, as the food was in good condition, the chemicals are substances that the body cannot get rid of. Fighting the problem in the food chain becomes more difficult as the levels of chemicals detected were all within legal limits and consumers can eat the items without getting ill. Medical experts, however, warned about the long term effects. «There are no permissible levels regarding the human intake of chemical substances,» Polixeni Nikolopoulou-Stamati, associate professor at the Athens Medical School, told Kathimerini. «Here we have a mix of substances. Who can determine its consequences? We cannot know each person’s body weight to determine with certainty safety levels for the consumption of contaminated products,» she said. The issue of contaminated food comes less than a month before the European Parliament is due to vote on a bill designed to reduce the industrial use of potentially hazardous chemicals. Environmentalists argue that the so-called REACH bill has been watered down under pressure from industry. Dangerous chemicals should be replaced with safer alternatives whenever available, according to WWF.