Misleading consumers

It is an open secret that false advertising risks becoming the rule rather than the exception. Commercials promoting everything from children’s toys to house loans contain blatant inaccuracies while the companies doing the advertising get away without paying any fines whatsoever. This climate of impunity has allowed this scourge to spread, in a different form, into the extremely sensitive food sector. According to a study conducted by Greece’s food safety watchdog EFET, most of the information printed on the packaging of pasteurized and condensed milk is misleading. More precisely, some 85 percent of the samples examined by the Hellenic Food Authority contained false information regarding the product’s origin. In 77 percent of the cases, the information on the package was inadequate. Finally, 73 percent of the samples were found to be carrying inaccurate nutritional data. The fact that the falsification of truth does not affect product quality is important, but it does not absolve producers of their responsibilities. Misleading labels are a violation of the law and cannot be discarded as mere mischief. The reaction by the chairman of Greece’s union of milk industries was quite provocative – even more so considering that EFET gave milk firms a three-month deadline to adapt to the legislation before being hit by the requisite fines. Undoubtedly the main issue at stake is how best to safeguard the suitability and the quality of food products. On the other hand, imposing legislation that requires clear and accurate information regarding commercial products is a necessary condition for a mature market with informed consumers. The time of unregulated and unchecked food markets is history. Consumers cannot be turned into guinea pigs. And gone are the days when consumers would do separate shopping at their local grocer’s, butcher’s or fruit shop, the owners of which they knew and trusted. In the rather impersonal environment of supermarkets, where the vast majority of products are packaged, consumers’ power to control goods is limited to checking the label. That is, of course, under the condition that the state insists on labels with adequate and accurate information. There’s a task for the Development Ministry.