From Thursday, Spanish retail sector can ration in case of food shortage

by Lorraine Williamson
food ration

Spanish supermarkets will be allowed to ration food from Thursday, when a special decree-law comes into force, to deal with ‘exceptional’ food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine and the transport strike of recent weeks.  

This is what the decree-law from the national plan to deal with the economic consequences of the war says. It changes the law on the regulation of retail trade and allows something that was previously prohibited. Consequently, traders can now ration food, or limit the number of items that can be bought by each customer.  

Extraordinary circumstances or force majeure 

As of Thursday, this will be allowed, always ‘by way of exception’ and ‘when exceptional circumstances or force majeure arise’. The decree was published in BOE, the state gazette, on Wednesday. The measures must be justified and taken when necessary, so that consumers can continue to have access to supplies. The measure is not general in nature, ‘not absolute’, and must respond to ‘objective and well-founded reasons’. For example, the restriction on the sale of certain items must be ‘based on the actual stock of each trader’. It also must aim to ‘guarantee the right of all consumers to obtain the product in a reasonable and equitable manner’, according to government sources. 

Preventing hoarding and trading 

The shortages, according to the government, have been caused by the war and the carriers’ strike. The current conditions have in some cases led to mass purchases by consumers. The measure aims to ‘prevent hoarding that undermines supply‘, ‘ensure that there are no sudden shortages’. It is also to ‘limit mass purchases’ that could be aimed at ‘reselling at higher prices later’. 

Meetings with the sector 

With this change in the law, the government makes rationing legal. Recently, some supermarket chains and individual shops have been accused of limiting the number of items a buyer can purchase. However, shopkeepers denied this. Meanwhile, the government branded those who did so as alarmists. Furthermore, they denied any problems with supply or shortages in the agri-food chain.  

Justifiable decision in response to exceptional situation 

However, the Spanish government now considers the decision, taken after several meetings with the sector and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, as ‘very justified’. During these meetings, the government insisted that the ‘exceptional situation’ caused by the war and the carriers’ strike required a response. Throughout the text, it admits that the ‘historic’ consequences of the price rise have been passed on to inflation and a rise in fuel prices which, in the case of Spain, led to a transport strike, which affected food supplies. 

Changing labels 

In addition to the shortage of foodstuffs, the impact of the war in Ukraine on the entire food supply chain can be seen in the shortage of certain ingredients in the production of certain foodstuffs. Therefore, the government has included in the decree the possibility of changing the labels of these items so that they contain ‘updated information on what ingredients have been used to replace those previously used’. In any case, the presence of allergens, i.e. substances that can cause allergies, must always be indicated. 

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