Currently in progress, the harmonised testing protocol should be ready by April this year, and a coordinated testing campaign with chemical and sensory testing is due to take place in May.
At least 16 EU countries from all corners of the bloc, big and small, will take part in order to test a common market basket of products available in most member states.
The JRC hopes to publish the first results by the end of 2018, said commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality Věra Jourová at a joint press conference on dual quality held this morning with chair of the Czech Parliament’s agriculture committee Jaroslav Faltýnek.
“I would like to stress again that consumers are in the driving seat. They should be voting with their purses and refuse to buy products that they do not like or consider to be of lower standards. This is the best way to be heard by the manufacturers,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Commission told this publication that people from affected countries were aware of which products were of lower quality. "Some people in these countries living in the border areas actually go shop in the neighbouring countries."
Jourová also spoke of plans to overhaul consumer law, which she will propose to the European Parliament in April.
“We are calling it the 'New Deal for Consumers' because we want to ensure that our good consumer laws, which we have in the European Union, are also applied in practice. For this purpose, I will propose to include new provisions in existing laws to ensure consumers can get redress when something goes wrong and that non-compliant traders are properly sanctioned,” she said.
The New Deal will make it more difficult, costly and illegal for traders to mislead consumers when marketing dual quality products, she said.
“When we will have completed these steps, I consider that the Commission will have accomplished its part in relation to dual quality food issue. It will subsequently be for national authorities to take up the challenge and to demonstrate that they also take the issue seriously. They should start to tackle the concrete cases that have been found on their national territory.”
Reformulation happening 'to some extent'
Jourová added that “to some extent” manufacturers had already started to listen to consumer voices with tangible effects that “have made the market evolve”.
She referred to baby manufacturer HiPP, which was the first company to announce plans to reformulate its products after the issue of dual quality made headlines around the world.
The Croatian Food Agency (HAH) had revealed that HiPP's Croatian product contained fewer vegetables and less rapeseed oil, meaning it had lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids. It was also 50% more expensive than the German equivalent.
German waffles and biscuit producer Bahlsen said it would start to use butter in all its products named butter biscuits.
The commissioner said she had met with food industry trade groups on four separate occasions and had stressed that consumers expect branded products to be the same wherever they purchase them in the EU and they should offer similar products across the Union.