Agrarian Chamber preparing series of protests against supermarket chains

The Czech Agrarian Chamber has declared war on retail chains. It is accusing supermarkets of threatening the very existence of Czech farmers by preferring low quality imported goods over better quality but slightly more expensive local products. The chamber says consumers are often unaware that they are offered goods under false pretences and hopes to persuade them to demand Czech foodstuffs with a series of protests next month.

Jan Veleba
The Czech Agrarian Chamber is running out of patience. Despite its cry for help with a peaceful protest in March, an attempt at amending the law on the protection of economic competition failed to win enough support in parliament last month. The chamber has now decided to take the fate of local farmers into its own hands and has put together a team that will be responsible for a series of protests next month. Jan Veleba is the president of the Chamber:

"The import of pork in just one year, from 2005 to 2006, increased by 300 percent - from 2 billion crowns to 6.2 billion crowns. This is not a normal development and we just can't be expected to let this continue without protesting until our very existence is superfluous. The series of protests that we're getting ready for will be planned rationally. They will be systematic in order to produce results."

The Chamber accuses supermarkets of putting price before quality and deceiving the consumer in the process with false labelling. When you buy cheap food at retail stores, you are in all likeliness saving money but not really getting a good deal. In other words, instead of quality beef from a young bull, it is most likely imported meat from an old cow, Mr Veleba says. He fears that most of the cheap imported meat from Austria is actually beef from old cows that Czech farmers have culled and sold to their neighbours.

The opposition Social Democrats' shadow agriculture minister Michal Hasek says his party will be putting forward another proposed amendment to the law on the protection of economic competition - this would be the fifth so far - by the end of the month. But Civic Democrat Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovic says for any such bill to be effective, it needs to be prepared for several months. The amendment his ministry is working on will not be ready before the end of October:

"It is difficult for the government to control imports and exports, and prices are driven by the demands of consumers. The only area in which we can step in is the control that supermarket chains have over suppliers. They often set unfair conditions under which they agree to sell products. But for that, we have to work closely with the Office for the Protection of Competition because it is a complicated matter. We could hastily put together some five or so conditions that supermarkets would have to meet, but then they would surely find some kind of a loophole."

Four years ago, the state started granting domestic food and agricultural products of superior quality the KLASA National Grade Label. By March this year, almost 1400 products from close to 200 Bohemian and Moravian producers had earned the KLASA label. A large-scale media advertising campaign is also offering Czech consumers KLASA produce. Minister Gandalovic says producers would help themselves if they took a more active role in promoting their foodstuffs:

"Individual producers need to foster relations with consumers. They have to present what they have to offer with effective advertisements. People would have to think really hard to recall when they last saw a nice ad for Czech food that was not a KLASA ad but one from the producer himself. A famous US businessman once said that if he had only three dollars left, he would put two of them into advertising. Let us not underestimate the effect of ads. An impression has to be made on the consumer so that he is not only driven by the price."

But producers argue that they are so busy slashing prices to almost below the cost of production that they cannot afford advertising campaigns. The Czech Republic also lacks consumer associations that exert pressure on retail chains by monitoring consumer rights and staging information campaigns. The Czech Agrarian Chamber will be holding its protests next month. Besides a large-scale information campaign, various protests will be held against those chains that have been reluctant to put Czech products on their shelves.