Dual quality food products: Commission guides Member States to better tackle unfair practices
Today the Commission issued a set of guidelines on the application of EU food and consumer laws to dual quality products, as announced by President Juncker in this year’s State of the Union speech.
The guidelines will help national authorities to determine whether a company is breaking EU laws when selling products of dual quality in different countries.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said on the occasion of the State of the Union speech: “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”.
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 analysing a potential dual quality product issue:
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 organised in Bratislava by the Slovak and Czech governments. Moreover, the Commission will organise workshops with consumer protection and food safety authorities in September and November.
Today, at the conclusion of the High-level meeting dedicated to the follow-up to the Fipronil incident, chaired by Commissioner Andriukaitis, the Member States and the Commission agreed on 19 concrete measures which will reinforce the EU’s action against food fraud. These measures will again be presented at the AGRIFISH Council on 9-10 October.
Commissioner Andriukaitis welcomed today’s achievements:
“First of all let me say that I was extremely pleased to see such a high level of participation today. It truly shows that the issue of food safety and food fraud is at the heart of discussion throughout the European Union.
I wanted this meeting to happen for at least a few important reasons
o I wanted to make sure that we take stock and reflect on the lessons learnt;
o And I also wanted to enhance communication between Member States and look for a more coherent and coordinated approach for the future in order to prevent such incidents from happening. Indeed, food fraud cases as this one damage public trust in the food safety and can eventually lead to destruction of trust in particular food industry. Misdoings and fraudulent practices of a few should not have such devastating effects.
I think that we had an open and frank exchange of views on past, current and future actions by both Member States and the Commission.
Today’s dialogue allowed us to identify several strategic and systematic actions needed at Member State and EU-level.
I will not enumerate all of them but I would like to mention a few.
We will improve risk communication between Member States and Commission making sure it reaches the general public in a more coherent and swift way.
We will make sure that it is easier to ensure rapid common risk assessment when such situations emerge.
We will aim at bridging the gap between the use of Rapid Alert System for food and feed (RASFF) and the Administrative and Cooperation system (AAC). These systems are our strength – we need to maximise their potential.
We will consider how to establish a ‘food safety officer’ in each Member State to make sure information flows as fast and as efficient as possible.
Finally, as last example I would mention capacity building activities including trainings and regular crisis exercises.
These are the types of concrete measures I was hoping we would agree on today and I am truly pleased we did.
Preserving public health and food safety is a collective responsibility. The wide food supply poses challenges that require us to maintain strong and efficient food fraud detection system and procedures and to communicate and cooperate at all the levels.
I am confident that the actions that we agreed upon today will help us do just that.”