At his State of the Union speech, Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I will not accept that in some parts of Europe, people are sold food of lower quality than in other countries, despite the packaging and branding being identical. We must now equip national authorities with stronger powers to cut out any illegal practices wherever they exist”.
Today the Commission issued a set of guidelines on the application of EU food and consumer laws to dual quality products. The guidelines will help national authorities to determine whether a company is breaking EU laws when selling products of dual quality in different countries.
Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said: “Presenting two different products in the same branded packaging is misleading and unfair to consumers. This issue is a clear example that we can solve cross-border problems only when working together on EU level. For too long Member States alone couldn’t find the right way to address this. I am determined to put an end to this practice, prohibited under EU law and make sure that all consumers are treated equally.”.
The guidance lists and explains the relevant requirements from EU food laws and EU consumer laws to which authorities need to refer when analyzing a potential dual quality product issue:
-the Food Information Regulation which requires that consumers are given truthful and sufficient information about a particular food product. For example, food labels must list of all of the ingredients contained in a product.
-the Unfair Commercial Practices directive, which prohibits unfair commercial practices, such as marketing identically branded products in a way that has the potential to mislead consumers.
Based on this legislation, the guidance establishes a step-by-step approach for the national consumer and food authorities to identify whether the producers are in breach of these laws In case there is a cross-border aspect to a breach, the consumer authorities can address it through the Consumer Protection Cooperation network at the European level.
The national consumer and food authorities are responsible for ensuring that companies comply with EU laws. However, the European Commission is committed to helping them through this guidance and through different work strands.
Other Commission actions
In addition to these guidelines, the Commission is working on a methodology to improve food product comparative tests so that Member States can discuss this issue on a sound and shared scientific basis that is the same for all. The Commission has made €1 million available to its Joint Research Centre (JRC) to develop this methodology.
The Commission is also financing further work on the collectionof evidence and enforcement by offering €1 million to Member States for the financing of studies or enforcement actions.
The Commission has started a dialogue with producers and brand associations, who have committed to developing a code of conduct for this autumn.
On 13 October, the Commission will participate to the Consumer Summit, a high-level ministerial meeting on the topic of dual food quality organized in Bratislava by the Slovak and Czech governments. Moreover, the Commission will organize workshops with consumer protection and food safety authorities in September and November./IBNA