Court rules large supermarkets must provide unsold items to food banks

Supermarket chains in the Czech Republic must continue providing unsold goods for free to food banks. The country’s highest court has thrown out an appeal from a group of senators, who argued that the practice was a form of taxation and anti-business.

Illustrative photo: Jaroslav MachIllustrative photo: Jaroslav Mach Under legislation signed into law three years ago, food retailers in the Czech Republic with floor space of 400 metres squared or more must hand over unsold goods free of charge to the country’s network of food banks, which then distribute them to the needy.

The foodstuffs involved do not meet certain standards – having damaged packaging, for instance – but are safe to consume.

On Wednesday the Constitutional Court threw out an appeal launched against the food banks legislation by 25 members of the country’s upper house.

The senators’ petition was headed by billionaire businessman Ivo Valenta of the grouping Soukromníci, or Freeholder Party.

Senator Valenta and his fellow petitioners said the legislation was unconstitutional as it represented a form of tax on food and contravened ownership rights and the right to do business.

They also argued against fines of up to CZK 10 million that can be levied for non-compliance.

Supporting their move was Pavel Mikoška. He is deputy president of the Czech Confederation of Industry and Tourism and oversees quality standards for supermarket operators Ahold.

“The state created this measure to generate an unpaid source of foodstuffs. However, it did not devote enough attention to the logistics and distribution involved. It would have been better to begin with those. Then the traders would have gladly provided foods to the needy themselves, because naturally nobody wants to throw them away.”

Rejecting the senators’ action, the Constitutional Court said the law in question was part of international efforts to combat food squandering, reduce waste levels and help the socially disadvantaged.

Photo: Agnés JoyautPhoto: Agnés Joyaut Veronika Láchová is the director of the Czech Federation of Foodbanks, which represents 15 such organisations around the country. She told Czech Radio she welcomed the ruling.

“I regard it as a victory for reason over bureaucracy. Our statistics suggest that every quarter we save supermarket chains up to hundreds of thousands of crowns that they would otherwise spend on destroying food. We worked with them previously and they were aware of that even before this law came in. If they destroyed that food instead of donating it, that would be to disparage not just the value of human work but the value of what we do – and the value of those foods.”

Marian Jurečka, who was minister of agriculture when the law came in, said it had proven worthwhile, reducing waste and helping over 100,000 people.