Yesterday (Thursday 12 June), members of the European Union's parliamentary committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) voted in favour of a report that called for tougher action on the issue of dual quality foods within the EU's single market.
The report, compiled by Czech member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Olga Sehnalová, was approved by 33 votes to three with one abstention.
In an amendment to the report, MEPs suggested manufacturers add a logo to the packaging of products to show consumers the content and quality of the same brand is the same across all EU countries.
They also said both producers and retailers should get involved in tackling the issue “in their own interest” without triggering enforcement procedures.
Sehnalová said the report was not about forbidding manufacturers from customising products for different markets – “of course you are allowed to do that," she said – but that consumers had the right to know this “at first sight”.
The vote is non-legislative but the report will now be put to a full Parliamentary vote in September.
Sehnalová told the committee the practice of dual quality has left citizens “very puzzled” and “quite angry".
“I think it is quite clear that it also undermines people’s trust in the functioning of the internal market and on the EU," she said. "[…] The European Parliament has taken its own stand and its position [is] that this practice is not acceptable for the well-functioning of the internal market. All citizens have the right to have access to the same quality of the goods.”
IMCO politicians called for the Commission to develop a common testing approach to ascertain how serious and widespread dual quality is, with results disclosed in a publicly available database and analysed “no later than by end of this year”.
BEUC warns: Consumer groups can sue over deceptive business practices
They also wanted to see more support of consumer organisations and the role they can play.
Consumer groups such as Czech dTest or Slovenian ZPS have been instrumental in commissioning product analyses and raising awareness of the issue in countries where dual quality is an issue.
Pan-European consumer group BEUC welcomed this. Its director general Monique Goyens said: “It is part of our member organisations’ daily job to compare products and help consumers figure out which ones have the best quality.
“Consumer groups can also sue companies whose business practices deceive consumers. Yet some groups, especially in Central-Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, struggle to fulfil their mission because of a lack of resources.”
“The next step must be to change the EU law on unfair commercial practices, as proposed by the Commission's New Deal for Consumers,” she added.
FDE welcomes 'broad lines' of report
A spokesperson for FoodDrinkEurope, the association that represents Europe's food manufacturers, said: "[We] welcome the broad lines of the report, particularly as it recognises that there might be acceptable differences in the composition of a single brand's product and that products may legitimately differ due to consumer preferences, sourcing of local ingredients, national legislation requirements or reformulation objectives.
She added: "FoodDrinkEurope and its members are against the notion of 'dual quality' in relation to food products, but believe that there can be legitimate reasons for geographical product differentiation on a case-by-case basis."
The legislative proposal New Deal for Consumers, which amends the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, is expected to be put to a committee vote in November.
Earlier this year, the Commission announced the launch of the Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality, run by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and funded by the European Commission, to share scientific knowledge on food fraud and dual quality.