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Sell-by fraud food not a danger to consumers - more

Food distributed under false labeling by the M.E.G.A Trade group appeared on supermarket shelves all over country but it is not thought that any of the items passed their sell-by dates presented a danger to consumers, said national daily Népszabadság on Friday.

Many of the foodstuffs were bio, wellness and diabetic products bought up at a discount in Germany as they were nearing the end of their shelf lives and then redistributed with false sell-by dates for a handsome profit in Hungary, said the paper. All products sold to the 1,200 retailers nationwide by M.E.G.A Trade have since been removed from shelves, costing each retailer tens of millions of forints.

Affected retailers included CBA, Tesco, Auchan, Spar and Drogerie Markt. One loophole is that food can travel freely between EU countries without documents proving their place of origin, said Péter Biács, head of the Hungarian Food Industry Association. And according to a Brussels regulation passed in 2002 under certain controls it is also possible to change packaging and extend the sell-by date as long as doing so does not pose a health risk, said the paper.

In the wake of the scandal, Hungary's government announced on Thursday that the office responsible for food safety will be reorganized, all activities will be under one roof at the ministry of agriculture and stricter restrictions will be introduced. The firms involved in the fraud were named and shamed on Thursday by Pest County Animal and Food Safety Authority. Food-safety officials started an operation in late November to examine warehouses on the outskirts of Budapest.

The five Hungarian-registered companies operating under "M.E.G.A Trade" had Ukrainian, Israeli, Austrian and Hungarian backers, said the Authority's head, György Virsinger. Over 100 tons of goods, about 400 different commodities, examined in warehouses in Törökbálint were found to have had their packaging and accompanying documents manipulated, he said. (