The European Commission has established a task force within DG Competition to oversee competition within the food sector.
This is the latest of a number of initiatives undertaken by EU institutions in connection with the sector. For example, in 2010, DG Enterprise set up a forum to consider how to achieve a better functioning food supply chain. The forum has already published mid-term reports which looked at topics including practices which might be deemed unfair in the context of business-to-business relationships within the food supply chain.
To date, most of the antitrust enforcement action in the EU has been focused on food retailing and been undertaken by national competition authorities:
- The Austrian Competition Authority is currently dealing with two cartel cases in the beer market and sugar market.
- The Belgian Competition Authority has launched a study into the price differentials for processed food in Belgium and The Netherlands.
- The Bulgarian Commission for the Protection of Consumers launched proceedings last year against six supermarket chains alleged to have coordinated their commercial policies and exchanged confidential information.
- The Danish Competition and Consumer Authority recently completed a competition analysis of the Danish grocery market.
- The Dutch Authority has investigated shrimp farming.
- The Estonian Competition Authority is investigating alleged bread and milk cartels.
- The Finish Competition Authority is holding an inquiry to determine how the buying power of the retail sector affects competition in the food sector.
- The French Authority has delivered opinions on the use of standard contracts in wine, fruit and vegetable, milk and turkey sectors.
- The BKA in Germany has recently investigated alleged price fixing in confectionery, coffee and pet food sectors.
- The Italian Authority is currently conducting a general investigation into the food sector.
- The Romanian Authority has launched a study into the beer market and retail food sector.
- The Spanish Authority has initiated infringement actions in the markets for mussel production and processing and canning of seafood and is investigating price fixing for sherry grapes.
- The UK has conducted market investigations into the supermarkets sector and the supply of beer.
The establishment of the food task force within DG Competition will bring an intensification of antitrust scrutiny of the sector, with some of the focus likely to be on whether the pricing of commodity and basic foodstuffs is reflective of competitive market conditions. As happened with the launch of the pharmaceutical sector inquiry, the task force will almost certainly want to herald its constitution with unannounced inspections and the dispatch of requests for information. This is, therefore, an opportune time to carry out or update your antitrust risk audit.
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