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Billa joins other retailers with hefty fine

The agriculture minister indicates a reduction of monetary damages is in the works.

Illustratory stock photo(Source: Sme)

After retail chains Tecso and Kaufland were penalised,  Billa received a €1 million fine for repeated shortcomings in one of its stores.

Inspectors of the State Veterinary and Food Authority (ŠVPS) found during a check of a Billa shop in Rožňava in January food beyond its use-by and minimum durability dates. Since the inspection found repeated shortcomings, the authority imposed it a fine of €1 million. Billa has challenged the fine.

The inspectors detained four pieces of food beyond the use-by date worth €11.77 and eight pieces of food beyond minimum durability date worth €92.30. These included cheese, milk drink, mustard, hamburger, beer, and yogurt, among other items. Deficiencies in hygiene were uncovered too.

This was for the second time the inspectors found errors in the store when the previous inspection took place in December 2015. It imposed it a fine of €5,000 in February, the Aktuality.sk website reported.

Billa challenged imposing the fine arguing that expired food was not offered for sale but was located in service rooms for staff what also photo documentation shows. The inspectors claim that they took the food from shelves and made photos of them in the service rooms, Denník N wrote.

Hefty fine is compulsory

Jozef Bíreš, the head of ŠVPS explained for the Dennik N daily that the authority does not have any other possibility but to impose a hefty fine when it uncovers repeated violations. The law on food sets that in case of a repeated violation of duties within one year since a valid decision about imposing a fine, the inspection must impose a fine between €1 and €5 million.

Read also: Read also:Tesco gets record fine

It was the then agriculture minister Ľubomír Jahnátek, who pushed through hefty fines. He indicated already before the March elections that the fines might be reduced. Current Agriculture Minister Gabriela Matečná has indicated in an interview with the Sme daily in late May that the fines might be reduced. Her ministry is already working on the revision to the law, but how much the fines might be reduced it is not known yet.

“We are in the stadium when we are negotiating with processors, food producers as well as retail chains about possibilities to adjust this law and we will certainly also address the fine,” Matečná said when answering a question about her opinion on fines, adding that she does not exclude lowering the €1 million bottom.

The Slovak Agriculture and Food Chamber (SPPK) does not agree with reduction of fines.

“If the ministry scraps hefty fines, retail chains will can again do what they want because we do not have any other stricter measures eliminating their unfair activity towards customers or suppliers,” SPPK spokeswoman Jana Holéciová told Sme.

This has been the eighth €1 million fine imposed in Slovakia, with foreign owned retail chains drawing the bulk of the penalties, Sme pointed out. Out of 200 highest fines imposed up to August 2015, most went to foreign chains. 

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