ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Salades européennes à l’huile de vidange
by Christelle Chabaud
Translated Saturday 28 June 2008, by
Large-scale retailing. Hundreds of foods on sale in the supermarkets contain crude oil derivatives, but the health authorities don’t think they need to be taken off the shelves.
Big-name brands like Amora, Knorr, Miko and others are involved... Over 200 food products on sale in French supermarkets contain engine oil, but that hasn’t really upset anyone at the French or European regulatory agencies.
The satirical weekly le Canard enchaîné broke the story on May 14. In late February, 2,800 tons of Ukrainian sunflower seed oil arrived in the French port of Sète. The oil, purchased by the Saipol company (owner of the Lesieur group and the biggest French processor of oleaginous foodstuffs), was imported to supply the factories of the big French food companies. One huge company, Unilever, for example, received 1,500 tons. Business as usual, up to that point ... except that, one month later, according to le Canard enchaîné, a North European industrialist informed Saipol that: “analysis has shown that there’s something wrong with the Ukrainian sunflower seed oil.” It contained mineral oil derived from crude oil, intended, in principal, for automobile engines.
Mixed in with the 2,800 tons that arrived in the French Mediterranean port of Sète, there were 19 tons that were not comestible oil. France is not the only country hit by the scandal. In all, the Ukrainian shipment arrived in some fifteen European countries, and involves a total of 40,000 tons of adulterated oil.
Paris hides behind Brussels, the EU capital.
Worry had the sweat pearling on the brows of food industry and retailing executives, including those of such big retail companies as Carrefour and Auchan. The latter tried to pass off the story that the tainted products were not being sold, until the French equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration admitted to le Canard enchaîné that “considering the number of companies concerned, it is impossible to know the exact number” of tainted food products. Were they to recall a symbolic few products to ward off the fears of those consumers who did not yet know what was in their bottles of Lesieur cooking oil? Oh, no, not at all. For although the European Commission published a warning on April 26, a week later it was minimizing the effects. With the help of the European food safety agency (ANEA), the European Commission authorized the sale of all products containing less than 10% tainted sunflower seed oil. According to the health authorities, “the oil in question has a low level of toxicity” – consequently, a 130-pound man can swallow up to two-thirds of a dram of motor oil “without endangering human health.” In France, the industrial lobbies and the government are sheltering behind the arguments furnished by Brussels. In Greece, on the other hand, the government has preferred to forbid the sale of all foods containing Ukrainian oil imported since January 1.
The information has been spreading at lightning speed over the Internet for a month. Websites, forums and blogs have posted the reactions of consumers, who are angry at being taken for “toxic food disposal sites.” Of late, there have been more and more scandals concerning the food on our plates. In Italy in late April, the carabinieri arrested 25 people suspected of having put vegetable oil laced with beta carotene (which is suspected of causing cancer), labelled “extra-virgin olive oil,” on the market. That scandal follows the dioxin-laced mozzarella scandal and the scandal concerning the 18.2 million gallons of wine that were contaminated with acids. The European Commission has proved to be less than prudent regarding human health in these three scandals, so as “not to aggravate the economic impact.”
In Brussels, they seem to have forgotten the 1980s case of the contaminated Spanish rape seed oil. Back then, the retail distribution of tainted rape seed oil caused 390 deaths, permanently handicapped 466 people, and caused serious lesions in 24,000 other people in Spain and Portugal.