Parmalat has issued a public apology to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in the wake of a row over the company’s initial response to accusations of dairy product hoarding in the country.
Earlier this week, the Venezuelan government accused Parmalat of hoarding 210,000kg of milk powder at its local unit in the South American country, to artificially hike-up prices already subject to high inflation levels, and said it would investigate the matter.
Today the Italian company confirmed to DairyReporter.com the terms of a letter to Chavez – issued through local media in Venezuela this week – apologising for its initial response to the charge.
Parmalat initially said that government confiscation ran counter to its own interests, since some products were destined for state bodies.
‘Mechanisms of the bourgeoisie’
Stating that it had failed to properly express its position regarding the milk seizure, Parmalat (now part of Groupe Lactalis) wrote: “We respectfully address to you our most sincere apologies.
“In no way did we intend to minimise the effort your honourable government and other public bodies make in favour of food supplies on a national level and the protection of consumers, of which we are co-participators and active collaborators for the good of Venezuelans,” the company added.
“Rest assured we will keep working positively, collaborating with all the important initiatives suggested by your government,” Parmalat said.
In a highly charged November 28 post in Spanish on his personal blog, Chavez (pictured) railed at the “mechanisms of the bourgeoisie” and struck out at Parmalat.
Commentators have suggested that the former soldier’s increasingly militant rhetoric on socio- economic issues is prompted by the fact that he is running for re-election as president in 2012.
He said: “We detected Parmalat hogging the milk. This is a battle against capitalism, which is the bane of human society.”
Expropriation threat looms
The president reminded Parmalat that there were “mechanisms of intervention and expropriation”, attacking at the dairy firm’s “allegation” that it had not hoarded milk supplied by the Corporation of Food Supply and Agricultural Services (CASA), but had bought it for retail packaging and sale.
“CASA, which is an importer, provides private milk to companies, but look what they do. They say they want to coordinate, but they want to grab,” wrote Chavez, who added that it was time to create a “new system of social distribution of production”.
Seeking to implement radical socialist reforms, Venezuela is setting new price limits for food products and attempting to police what the authorities identify as product speculation.
Chavez’ regime has pushed through the nationalisation of assets held by a series of foreign companies in Venezuela in recent years, including Parmalat’s former sites in Machiques and Barquisimeto.
Other big food and beverage industry names affected included glass bottle maker Owens-Illinois (O-I) and food packaging giant Smurfit Kappa.