What is special about Slovak food law
Overall, the main source of inspiration for Slovak food law is EU legislation and its rules are therefore similar to those in other EU member states.
Yet there are certain local specifics that cannot be overlooked. In the last two years, various changes have been introduced into Slovak law distinguishing it from other member states. The argued aim was to protect consumers, to promote Slovak foodstuffs in the retail chains and to balance distribution relations. Such changes include the following:
- A regulation on the labelling of foodstuffs claiming Slovak origin, which is, according to state officials, unique and the first of its kind in the EU. For example, foodstuffs can be labelled with the marketing tool “Made in Slovakia” only if all production phases took place in Slovakia. In addition, foodstuffs made in Slovakia may be considered “Slovak foodstuffs” if at least 75% of the ingredients used in its production come from Slovakia.
- An obligation of retail undertakings with turnover from retail sale of foodstuffs of at least EUR 10 mln in the last calendar year to report biannually to the authority the share of its turnover formed by the sale of Slovak foodstuffs. The undertaking must also publish the data on its website and in its stores.
- The Act on unfair terms in commercial relations, the subject matter of which is foodstuffs. The idea behind this is claimed to be to help suppliers resist the pressure of retail chains with a stronger bargaining position in contractual relations. The act enumerates not only provisions that may not be omitted in such agreements, but also prohibited clauses, including: (i) making the sale of supplier’s foodstuffs conditional on the production of foodstuffs under the reseller’s own trademark (except if the reseller helps develop the foodstuffs); (ii) an obligation of the supplier to reimburse profit or margin of the retail chain operator that is lower than expected; and (iii) promotional activities of the retail chain operator without adequate consideration in favour of the supplier.
Recent amendments have also affected sanction mechanisms. The amounts of allowable fines have been doubled; a new inspection body (the “food cobra squad”) has been established; and new competences of the supervisory authorities have been added.
But the Slovak legislator is not the only busy bee. The enforcement authority, under the auspices of the Ministry of Land and Rural Development of the Slovak Republic, is motivated by the desire to protect customers against alleged cheating by producers of foodstuffs providing low quality goods in return for huge profit and big retail chains squeezing every eurocent from its suppliers. There is thus a trend of increased supervision over the food market in Slovakia
In practice, the number of inspections has risen over 2014, exceeding 35,700 by the end of August. So far, the highest fine reached EUR 50,000. The sanctioned non-compliance included goods missing labelling in the state language and date of consumption, missing laboratory tests of drinking water, laboratory identification of an ingredient not mentioned in the ingredients’ list and storage of incompatible goods.
Businesses operating on the Slovak food market should be ready for more inspections. Certain state officials have expressed their intention to take a closer look at foodstuffs throughout the whole chain, from production to processing, transport, storage, re-packaging, distribution and through the sale. It seems that even inspections of quality and of ingredients’ list of foodstuffs will become routine.
Although Slovak food law follows European legislation to a great extent, some local peculiarities must be considered when conducting business there. Especially the enthusiasm of supervision authorities for inspections and the increased rates of fines cannot be overlooked. So any company operating or planning to operate on the Slovak food market should take care to comply with Slovak food law – and be ready to open their door to inspectors at any time.
Companies operating on the Slovak food market should be ready to open their door to food law inspectors at any time.