The Russian court has already fined the French retailer RUB800,000 (US$11,000), bringing the overall level of fines Russian authorities have put on Auchan since mid-2015 to RUB25m (US$347,000), according to estimates from Anna Popova, head of the Russian sanitary service Rospotrebnadzor.
“The inspections have found that the hypermarket chain is failing to assess risks, in terms of public health protection, from defective and dangerous products of animal origin and prevent their sale,” explained Natalia Sokolova, a spokesperson for Rosselkhoznadzor.
“In one inspected hypermarket, for example, the steriliser was not working, so disinfection of instruments could not been carried out [in accordance with veterinary rules],” she added, pointing out that inspections into the French retailer are ongoing.
Meanwhile, a representative of Auchan has been attempting to challenge the veterinary service’s complaints in court. In particular, the retailer said it had conducted an inspection of the same meat products on the same day and had not discovered any violations – either microbiological or physicochemical.
In addition, the French retailer believed Rosselkhoznadzor was not in a position to conduct inspections of supermarket's retail chains or the meat-processing lines supplying them. According to Auchan, this is the duty of the country’s sanitary service, and it has expressed surprise as to why its hypermarket network was attracting such close attention from Russia’s veterinary inspectors.
A spokesperson from Rosselkhoznadzor countered that the veterinary service had conducted inspections in numerous retails chains that sold food products and claimed there was no special attention given to Auchan. At the same time, recent disputes with the French company had resulted in an improvement in the quality of meat products in Russian supermarkets, officials believed.
“[With these inspections], we have been able to create an appropriately strained situation in the market, so that people [engaged in meat production] have largely decreased their desire ‘to vandalise’ the market, and that is very exciting,” said Evgeni Antonov, head of the Moscow department at Rosselkhoznadzor.
In addition, Rosselkhoznadzor is now trying, via the courts, to temporarily close Auchan’s meat processing lines in the hypermarkets where violations have been identified. Previously, the retailer, in response to the first inspections, had announced plans to invest heavily in establishing a meat complex in Russia, with a number of farms. However, it is not known if these plans could change now as, according to Russian experts, the current disputes could spoil the image of company’s meat products in the eyes of consumers.
“This dispute between Auchan and the Russian authorities over meat quality has gone on for almost half a year, and it is definitely not helping the popularity of the retail chain’s meat products,” commented Russian agricultural analyst Eugene Gerden. However, he added that it was impossible to assess if the dispute had already affected sales.