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Hungarian inspectors search for tons of illegally packed food

Hungarian food inspectors will search warehouses, markets and wholesalers around the country for illegal food products.

The discoveries are „the tip of the iceberg,” said Attila Borodi, the chairman of the country's association of food processors, in a telephone interview yesterday. Inspectors, in pre-holiday checks of food in storage, have discovered illegally rewrapped products in and around Budapest. The food, including meat and pasta, was headed for Hungarian supermarkets owned by companies including Tesco Plc and Auchan SA. Police are investigating the M.E.G.A. Trade Group importer. The supermarkets say they've removed all M.E.G.A. foodstuffs. „It's disgusting and ruining my holiday shopping,” said Enikő Péteri, a tour guide who lives in Budapest. „I'm not going to the big supermarkets to shop and instead will go to the corner shops where I know the food is local.”

Hungarian police are investigating the role of M.E.G.A., a closely held Austrian company, Emese Horváczy, a spokeswoman for the national investigation office, said today. M.E.G.A. has imported about 400 types of food to Hungary and sold them to 1,200 local retailers, according to the Hungarian Agriculture Ministry. M.E.G.A. was fined Ft 80 million ($417,646) earlier this year, when authorities found 94 tons of expired food in a warehouse, Ferenc Deák, the head of the agriculture ministry's food safety department, said in an interview. He didn't divulge the date of the fine. M.E.G.A. owner Stefan Fischer did not return messages left by Bloomberg News on his mobile telephone. Fischer said he did not knowingly sell forged food and said it may be part of an operation by rivals to discredit him, newswire MTI reported December 12, citing a statement from Fischer. „We can't say that all the food was forged, but that needs to be investigated,” Deák said. „To be on the safe side, we've ordered all to be sent back from the stores.”

Police found 100 tons of illegal food in a warehouse outside Budapest yesterday, newspaper Népszabadság reported today. The relabeled products included meat, pasta and sweets, with some having expired in 2004, the newspaper said. The agriculture ministry met with executives of supermarkets operating in the country on December 15 and agreed to take joint steps to prevent the further sale of products past their expiry date. The ministry will also investigate offers for bulk deliveries at suspiciously low prices. Auchan of France, with nine stores in Hungary, ended contact with M.E.G.A. this month and took food imported by the company off the shelves, spokeswoman Katalin Gillemot said today. Tesco, with 65 shops in Hungary, also removed products imported by M.E.G.A., spokesman Mihály Hardy said. Food association head Borodi said earlier this month that about a third of the food sold in Hungary may be illegal, citing forged expiry dates on items and importers who fail to pay taxes on products. (Bloomberg)