Police have arrested a man suspected of distributing contaminated bootleg spirits in the Semily area, north-east of Prague. The man is reported to have bought cheap liquor from Moravia containing the deadly methanol. Police found over 3 thousand liters of it in storage on his premises. If convicted the man would face up to five years in prison.
Slovakia and Poland have lifted their ban on the import and sale of Czech spirits. Slovak Agriculture Minister Lubomír Jahnátek said on Tuesday that all Czech spirits imported to the country would have to have certificates of origin and a clearly marked date of production. He said Slovakia would recognize certificates issued in the Czech Republic. Special measures will apply to spirits produced between January and September this year which is considered high-risk. Poland is taking similar measures. Czech liquor producers recently protested against the ban arguing that their certified products were unquestionably safe.
Methanol-laced bootleg liquor has claimed its 28th victim. An autopsy confirmed on Monday that a 60 -year-old man, who died in his home near Uherské Hradiště in south-eastern Moravia last week, was killed by methanol. A police spokeswoman said a bottle of spirits was found in the man’s house but the police had not yet traced its source.
Profits in Czech agriculture more than doubled from 7.6 billion crowns in 2010 to 17.1 in 2011, according to revised data from the Czech Statistical Office; the revised numbers are around 700 million crowns higher than the preliminary result made public at end of February. The earlier result was already a record high. The Czech agriculture sector has generated profits since 2004 when the Czech Republic joined the European Union, mainly thanks to EU subsidies. The value of production in agriculture expressed in current basic prices increased by almost 16 percent compared with 2010 to 118.9 billion crowns. Crop cultivation grew by more than 23 percent, while livestock production dropped by 6.2 percent.
In related news, a government committee dealing with the crisis has called for the introduction of a general ban on spirit sales at streets stands. Speaking after the committee’s session on Monday, Health Minister Leoš Heger said the government would also consider introducing harsher fines for selling alcohol to minors as well as for counterfeiting excise stamps. Under the tougher rules, proprietors who breach the regulations could lose their licences. The committee has also called on spirits retailers not to dispose of alcohol without certified origin and wait until further instructions from the customs.
Preliminary tests, conducted on blood samples in Prague, have ruled out methanol poisoning in the case of a 60-year-old Czech man admitted to hospital in Cheb on Saturday morning. Poisoning was suspected after the patient collapsed in the emergency room, his nose bleeding; doctors were later informed the man had drunk around half a litre of spirits, vodka and plum brandy, the evening before. The patient, once stabilised, was transferred to a hospital in Sokolov. Some 80 people in the Czech Republic suffered methanol poisoning since September 14th after drinking laced bootleg liquor; almost 30 of them died. The outbreak forced the government to declare temporary partial prohibition and tough new measures.
Health Minister Leoš Heger has agreed with spirits manufacturers on a joint approach to preventing alcohol use among minors. A new bill on addictive substances is to cover prevention among minors, alcohol sales methods and modify health controls and fines. The Health Ministry said that under the proposed bill, those who sell alcohol to minors could face not only the current financial penalty of up to three million crowns, but could also lose their licences. The Ministry is giving its proposals to a inter-ministerial coordination group that the government created on Wednesday. The group has two weeks to submit the new legislation to the government which will also enable authorities to crack down more on bootleg producers. The move comes in the wake of a serious outbreak of methanol-related deaths from bootleg liquor, which estimates say makes up 20 percent of the spirits market.
The Prague Institute of Chemical Technology has developed a new method of measuring the methanol content in spirits without opening the respective bottle of alcohol. The method, based on Raman spectroscopy, is markedly cheaper and faster than classical tests, and has proved highly reliable. It can moreover be undertaken with the help of a small, mobile device which can be used anywhere in the field. Scientists developed the method in response to the recent outbreak of methanol-related deaths when the institute was inundated by requests from the public to verify the safety of spirits people have at home.
The cabinet is planning to take effective action against unlicensed production and sale of spirits. The prime minister has given experts from the justice, health, industry and finance ministries a fortnight in which to produce new licensing regulations and control mechanisms which would enable the authorities to crack down on bootleg producers. The move comes in the wake of a serious outbreak of methanol-related deaths from bootleg liquor, which estimates say makes up 20 percent of the spirits market. The government is also planning to step up the fight against alcohol abuse by minors.
Moravian farmers will demand compensation from the state for damages caused by this year’s drought, according to the head of the Moravian Agrarian Chamber Václav Hlaváček. Mr. Hlaváček told reporters on Wednesday that in Moravia the 2012 grain harvest was 65 percent smaller than last year’s due to the long months of drought which could have disastrous consequences for local farmers. He said farmers would request compensation to the tune of 750 million crowns. The situation in the Czech lands is slightly better although farmers say the harvest will be one of the worst in decades.
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