European lawmakers have recommended that products sold with a different composition between European Union (EU) countries should not be labelled and branded in a seemingly identical way.
The EU said that tests done in several member states have proven that products advertised and sold under the same brand and identical packaging in fact differ in composition and ingredients, to the detriment of consumers.
Differences were found in products such as fish fingers, instant soup, coffee and soft drinks.
In a report approved by 33 votes to three, with one abstention, the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee recommended several measures at EU and national levels to tackle the dual quality issue.
The report was compiled by Czech MEP Olga Sehnalová, who said: “Dual quality products undermine citizens’ confidence in the fair functioning of the EU internal market. If a product is sold under the same brand and packaging, it should have the same composition. If the manufacturer wants to customise a product, consumers have the right to know and be aware of this adjustment for each individual product.
“We must ensure that all misleading practices are outlawed and that the proposed initiatives do not just remain on paper. In order to do so, the amendment to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, as proposed by the European Commission in April, is a good starting point. However, it needs several clarifications to work effectively. There must be neither second-class products, nor second-class consumers in the EU.”
Last year European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker criticised the dual standards of food quality in his State of the Union speech.
Differences in food quality have been prevalent in Central and Eastern Europe. A study by the Czech Agriculture Ministry last year analysed 21 products sold in different countries under the same brand. Tests revealed that 13 of them were different. In addition, five products had a different volume in the same size pack.
Meanwhile German biscuit producer Bahlsen responded to pressure from Eastern European countries and unified its production standards across the continent. The maker of Choco Leibniz replaced palm oil with butter in its biscuits, as prescribed by the original German recipe.
MEPs have now called for swift cross-border cooperation and data sharing, including on potentially non-compliant products and possible unfair practices, among national consumer protection and food authorities, consumer associations and the EU Commission in order to tackle dual quality and ensure that the rules are enforced more consistently.
They say a common testing approach needs to be fully developed, to gather reliable and comparable evidence and help ascertain how serious and widespread the dual quality issue is.
MEPs have invited manufacturers to consider including a logo on packaging that would show that the content and quality of the same brand is the same across all EU countries.
The report will be put to a vote by the full parliament at September’s plenary session.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020
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