Illegal butchering at the Rendi meat market

It is dawn in Athens’s central meat market in Rendi, and trucks are unloading butchered meat eventually destined for the retail trade. Just another ordinary day, as in any wholesale meat outlet, yet most of the traders in Rendi do not have a permit to butcher. It is due to delays and the bureaucracy of the Greek civil service as well as lack of clarity in the legislation that the Rendi market has become a public health hazard. An effort is being made to modernize the market’s infrastructure, as 13 of the total 52 wholesale outlets are being modernized and brought up to international standards of hygiene (and therefore legally entitled to sell butchered meat). However, this work has been proceeding at a snail’s pace for some years, during which time standards at the market have come under fire from European experts and local inspectors. «Yes, we had a problem after visits by European Union inspectors, that’s why the market is being moved to better premises. Of course, we have been hearing about it for 15 years, but now the first outlets are ready. As for the butchering of the meat before arrival at the market, this cannot be avoided for practical reasons, since otherwise the meat will not fit inside the trucks,» said meat wholesalers at the market. The Piraeus Prefecture’s veterinary services issued a document in July 2006 to the effect that «the Rendi meat market businesses do not meet the specifications in the law on issuing licenses for butchering and standardizing meat. In fact, none of the wholesalers has a license.» This particular prefectural bureau has repeatedly found violations of the law on butchering and informed the Ministry of Agricultural Development. It referred the 52 wholesale outlets to the courts in October 2005. However, all were acquitted of the charges. Long history The Rendi meat market has had a chequered history. Founded in 1970, it initially abided by the provisions of the laws in force at the time. However, difficulties soon cropped up in meeting modern specifications. As a result, it came under the European Union’s microscope. In 1995, what was then known as the Agriculture Ministry had informed the Athens Central Market Organization that in order for fresh meat to be butchered and stored at the market, the premises had to comply with hygiene regulations. In November 1996, a recommendation was made to the government to either have the market cleaned up or closed down. Two years later, the Piraeus prefectural services found that the situation still left much to be desired and set a six-month deadline for improvements to be made. Still nothing was done. In August 2000, the ministry once again emphasized the need to take action and gave its approval for a new 4.3-billion-drachma meat market to be included in the Third Community Support Framework, work on which was to begin in the second half of 2002. Not only did construction not begin then, but it was not until June 2003 that Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos announced the competition for its construction, at a budget of 16 million euros (that is 5.4 billion drachmas in 2000 parities). In November 2004, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne, responding to a question from a Synaspismos Left Coalition Eurodeputy, said the schedule for the new Rendi meat market had been moved to mid-2006, according to a commitment by the Greek government. Meanwhile, three successive inspections by European Union experts between early 2002 and the end of 2003 found conditions that amounted to public health risks, apart from the repeated delays in construction of the new premises. Among the dozens of problems they noted were the presence of animals (dogs, cats and birds) in close proximity to the sites where the meat was being processed. Meanwhile, they found that no real improvements had been made. It seemed that everything had been put on hold until the new premises were available. The Piraeus Prefecture’s veterinary service claims the first 13 wholesalers will be able to move there by the end of the year.