Irresponsibility at a high price

The sale of spoilt yogurt by the dairy firm FAGE could have remained a minor, isolated error or an accident in the production process without any particular repercussions, even for the firm itself. Had the public been immediately notified, had the suspect products been withdrawn without delay and in such a way as to convince the public of the credibility of both the firm and the state authorities monitoring it, then consumers, both in Greece and abroad, would have felt protected. These things happen, after all, as they did with Perrier bottled mineral water some years ago when huge quantities had to be withdrawn from store shelves. In fact the issue, brought to light by SKAI 100.3 radio, is not that certain batches of products were spoiled, but that while the firm and the Hellenic Food Authority (EFET) received thousands of protest calls, they made no announcement about the problem. FAGE said it had made an internal inspection and found the cause of the problem, withdrawing the spoilt batches. EFET called for explanations and sent a team of inspectors but did nothing to inform the public, nor did it order the immediate withdrawal of the spoilt products. As with the listeria-tainted feta exported to Norway a few years ago, this is a double case of irresponsibility. On the one hand is a business – an export business to boot – that irrationally decided to keep quiet about a public health problem. On the other is a state inspection agency that exacerbated the delay or at best accepted the firm’s assurances and did not make the problem known either to Greek consumers or the corresponding authorities in countries to which the product is exported. The combination of corporate irresponsibility and state inertia has already brought about two evils. First of all, Greek consumers have realized that the state authority charged with guaranteeing food safety suffers from a lack of credibility similar to that of many other public bodies. Secondly, foreign inspection authorities, already seeking explanations from EFET, and foreign consumers might be interpreting the incident as a sign of a more general lack of control over Greek exports, putting yet other exports under suspicion. So a supposedly simple production error could well create a negative image of the Greek production sector as a whole.