EFET head steps down

The head of the Hellenic Food Authority (EFET) resigned yesterday after 6,000 tons of contaminated sunflower oil had entered the market, highlighting weaknesses in the country’s food control system. The food authority also said it will recall from the market all suspect sunflower oil imported since the start of the year amid concerns that more tainted quantities may have escaped customs inspections. The head of EFET, Evangelos Lazos, stepped down and will be replaced temporarily by vice president Antonis Zampelas. Sources said that Lazos’s letter of resignation indicated he was not offered support by the Development Ministry during the food scare. «We make no concessions on matters of principle and health,» Development Minister Christos Folias told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. Thousands of tons of refined and unrefined sunflower oil have been found to have been contaminated by mineral oil, a by-product of petroleum, from two shipments imported from Ukraine in March. When it initially announced the possibility of contaminated sunflower in early May, EFET had said the substances the oil contained «could be described as carcinogenic… and toxic.» Authorities have ordered several brands of sunflower oil and one brand of mayonnaise to be recalled. But they have been criticized for not acting quickly enough to prevent hundreds of tons of the contaminated oil from reaching consumers. Sources said EFET has been experiencing problems monitoring the market as a result of budget constraints that had limited operations as well as staff numbers. There are five separate ministries involved in food checks, plus a number of state services, though very little – if any – coordination between them. Opposition parties blamed EFET’s failure to spot the contaminated sunflower oil on the government, charging that it is failing to protect consumers. «The resignation of Mr Lazos is tantamount to an acknowledgement of the government’s total failure to deal with the food crisis,» said PASOK’s Michalis Chrysochoidis.