Zero tolerance

The presence of spoiled food in the market is not just evidence of profiteering, it is also a health hazard and for that reason it should be considered a criminal act. This is a dimension that state officials must take into consideration when tackling cases of products that are found to be unsuitable for consumption. The news about the distribution of bad food was, in fact, old news. Unfortunately, we can no longer talk about a few, isolated cases. And this is proven by the fact that reports about spoiled food multiply as state controls intensify. To be sure, the state’s food watchdogs cannot control the total amount of food products that circulate on the market. Large imports, often arriving in Greece through complex routes, make effective monitoring even harder. The root cause of the problem is that Greece does not have in place any network large enough to fulfill the huge task. At present, different agencies compete with each other for jurisdiction, making it difficult to decide who is responsible and for what. At the moment, we are seeing a tug of war between the Hellenic Food Authority (EFET), which is under the Ministry of Development, and the various food watchdog groups under the Agriculture Ministry. This ongoing antagonism defeats the purpose and must come to an end. All the different agencies must come under the same umbrella. This will help to end the obscure status that prevents the allocation of responsibilities. On top of that, the government must take steps to protect public health. The latest case of spoiled turkey imports from Canada speaks volumes about the hazards. Although the meat goods tested positive for salmonella, the product had already received the green light for distribution in the local market. Although the case emerged last December, no one has faced a prosecutor until now. Perhaps the meat in question was too widely distributed and disparate complaints failed to get the media’s attention. It was only when the Athens prefect pressed charges against a food watchdog organization that the issue grabbed the headlines. The climate of impunity is verified by the fact that companies that have been found guilty of distributing spoiled food have failed to pay the fines imposed by the state. History demonstrates that the frequency and the effectiveness of inspections are only half the story. The rest is about sanctions. Here the state must adopt an attitude of zero tolerance. If food firms realize that their very survival is at stake, they will restrict their unbridled profiteering and impose their own quality checks on their products.