On June 10th, a new consumer protection website was launched by the Czech Ministry of Agriculture designed to significantly aid in consumer protection. The site is named “potraviny na pranýři” – or “groceries on the stocks” (official translation: “food pillory”), meaning the old-fashioned wooden kind used to publically humiliate wrongdoers. The project has been a huge hit with consumers, while many leading supermarket chains are less than thrilled.
If there’s one department of the Czech state that is viewed by a large number of Czechs as not only efficient and effective, but almost heroic, then it is the Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority (SZPI). They are in the news on a depressingly regular basis, uncovering deceptive relabeling of meats and cheeses on one day and the selling of out-of-date goods the next. One recent well-publicised example: SZPI inspectors ordered the withdrawal from sale of a particular brand of Polish-made biscuits as tests showed that they contained far more peanuts – a potentially deadly allergen to some – than was advertised. And that’s just one case of thousands and thousands.
Now a new website has been launched by the SZPI and the Ministry of Agriculture, which gives consumers an easy overview of what the inspectors have found and where. Want to know about the fungus found on a cheese spread sold in an Albert supermarket in Prague 5 on 14th March 2012? Want to know about the Tesco in Prague 10 caught on May 25th selling salami with a lower level of meat than advertised? How about the odd-tasting ham foam found in a Kaufland in Ostrava on March 7th? It’s all there and more…
On the day of its launch at the start of June, www.potravinynapranyri.cz says it registered more than 200,000 hits within 24 hours and has had over 4 million visits since its launch. It breaks up products into three categories: those found to be dangerous; those found to be falsified or otherwise lacking correct or crucial information and finally those foods found to be sold as higher quality than they actually are. The Tesco, Kaufland and Ahold supermarket chains have reportedly fared worst in the listings: Tesco leads with 44 cases of wrongdoing.
“The Food Pillory project is here to provide the necessary information so customers can make well informed decisions. And it is also an effort to provide an orientation tool to strengthen the consumer’s role in the market…yes, it is very popular and that has been beyond our wildest dreams.”
But the site isn’t without its critics, with food producers and supermarkets, perhaps understandably, most unhappy. Criticisms centre on two key factors. Firstly, the site only lists what the SZPI inspectors have uncovered in absolute terms, thus the number of cases attributed to one supermarket or another need not be at all representative. Secondly, producers are arguing that the website doesn’t make it sufficiently clear who is to blame for a particular incident – did the supermarket err and sell perfectly problem-free goods in a deceptive or dangerous manner or was it merely the innocent victim of wrongdoing by a producer? Naming and shaming in this case, they argue, may be unfairly hurting reputations. The Ministry of Agriculture, for its part, has promised to improve the site in the future, but Pavel Kopřiva argues that such criticisms from producers and sellers are unfair:
“All the items that are listed on the website are the official control findings and we share with consumers all the information we have collected. And we think that this is the most objective way how to inform customers. The other thing is that in a large number of cases, or a large number of items that are listed on the webpage, it is impossible to identify who is to blame for the unsatisfactory foodstuff. For example, if the cheese is rotten, it is almost impossible to say whether it is the fault of the reseller or a production fault. Not even a detective agency could figure this out. So therefore, we would like to deliver the most information to the consumer, and let him decide who is to blame.”