The President of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection, Tomasz Chróstny, ordered UOKiK employees to carry out inspections of entrepreneurs operating on the pork market.
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According to the Regulation of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, which implemented the Implementing Regulation of the European Commission, there is a possibility of introducing three zones on the territory of Poland in the case of an outbreak of the African Swine Fever (ASF) virus. Each is subject to different restrictions.
The greatest restrictions apply to areas where the disease has been found in pigs (red zones). Among other things, intra-Community supplies of meat from these areas to other EU Member States are prohibited.
At the same time, meat from healthy animals from the red zone, produced in designated establishments, is safe for human consumption and may be sold in Poland without restrictions after veterinary examination.
A situation in which a large business is unwilling to accept healthy and tested food may be a sign of unfair use of contractual advantage.
Such a practice occurs when there is a significant disproportion of economic potential between the counterparties and the stronger party takes advantage of it to the detriment of the smaller entity. This could include relationships between a farmer and a large nationwide meat processor or retail chain.
"The African Swine Fever virus has taken its toll on Polish farmers. Therefore, it is very important for pig farmers in zones where ASF cases have been found to be able to sell meat that has been confirmed as healthy and safe in veterinary tests. All the more so in a situation where even a single case of the disease in the region prevents them from sending this meat outside Poland.
"Meanwhile, we have received reports that some large processors and retail chains are refusing to accept pork from healthy animals that is perfectly safe for human consumption. Such action may constitute unfair use of contractual advantage against swine breeders, which is why I have ordered inspections in this respect," says UOKiK President Tomasz Chróstny.
UOKiK employees undertook the first verification activities in July this year, immediately after signals of irregularities occurring locally. Following further reports of possible refusal to accept shipments of healthy meat from ASF zones, unannounced inspections of company premises began in mid-September.
First, the activities of the following five entities were checked - two retail chains: Jeronimo Martins Polska (Biedronka chain) and Dino Polska, and three processors: Gobarto (a meat producer, Cedrob's subsidiary, selling products under the brands Gobarto, Makton, among others), Animex (producer of the brands Krakus, Morliny or Berlinki, among others) and Sokołów (owner of the brands Sokołów, Grill House or Gzella, among others).
The investigation revealed that Jeronimo Martins Polska has not, until recently, purchased meat from healthy animals reared in African swine fever zones.
During the inspection commissioned by the President of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection, the owner of the Biedronka chain changed its policy and is now buying such meat along with its processed products.
UOKiK employees obtained confirmation from suppliers that Jeronimo Martins Polska had indeed recently begun accepting tested products from restricted zones.
The inspections showed that Animex, Sokołów and Gobarto do not make the purchase of pork conditional on the animal being bred in ASF-free zones. During the inspection, the companies declared that they would also purchase healthy meat from ASF zones in the future.
An inspection conducted at Dino Polska, on the other hand, has not yet given a clear answer as to the inspected practices of the company. Therefore, the activities of the company's subsidiary responsible for the purchase and processing of meat – Agro Rydzyna – are being verified at a further stage.
Previous inspections conducted by the President of the Office were based on information from swine brokers, slaughterhouses, meat plants and retail chains about entities refusing to buy healthy pigs or processed pork meat coming from ASF zones.
Working with the Chief Veterinary Officer, they received data of slaughterhouses that refused to accept the agreed supplies.
Based on the material collected and as part of a screening test, further inspections are being carried out at two meat plants: Bell Polska (owned by one of the largest meat producer groups in Europe) and Agro Rydzyna (a subsidiary of Dino Polska). The practices of Lidl retail chain are also under investigation.
Practices such as cancelling pre-arranged deliveries, returning products or refusing to accept inspected pigs or meat from restricted zones may constitute unfair use of contractual advantage punishable by a penalty of up to 3% of the annual turnover of the company.
In justified cases, the UOKiK President may refrain from imposing a penalty. Such a situation may occur, for example, if the company immediately changes its practice. ■
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