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Petfood manufacturers fined by France antitrust authority

Petfood manufacturers Nestlé SA, Mars Inc. and Colgate-Palmolive Co. were fined a collective €35.3 million (US$46.7 million) by France's antitrust authority for pressuring petfood distributors to mark up prices, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Autorité de la Concurrence in France said "vertical agreements" between the three petfood companies and their respective distributors between 2004 and 2008 "limited competition on the markets for dry food for dogs and cats." According to the report, France's antitrust authority said Nestle and Mars were fixing prices, taking over policies and pushing competing petfood products off of store shelves. The antitrust authority also said that Colgate-Palmolive's Hill's Pet Nutrition brand forbid its wholesalers from exporting products from the US to France without prior explicit consent from Hill's.

A spokesman for Colgate's petfood brands said the company was reviewing the decision and "continues to assert that it has never impeded or attempted to impede parallel trade at any time."

Nestlé was originally fined slightly more than €19 million (US$25.1 million), Mars was fined €11.6 million (US$15.3 million) and Colgate-Palmolive was fined €4.7 million (US$6.2 million), though the fines for Nestlé and Mars were reduced by 18 percent and 20 percent respectively, because the antitrust authority said the companies did not deny the charges and took action to meet antitrust regulations.

"We believe the fine is high given the facts and the limited impact to the market," a Mars spokesman said. "Royal Canin and Mars Inc. take very seriously competition law compliance."

"As soon as we began discussions with the competition authorities, we made a commitment to reorganize our commercial structure in order to address any concerns regarding commercial practices at the wholesale level," said Sophie Dubois, general director for Nestlé Purina Petcare France.

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