In a plenary session today, 464 politicians voted in favour of the recommendations in the non-legislative resolution, with 69 votes against and 17 abstentions. The report will now go to the European Commission for consideration.
Compiled by Czech politician Olga Sehnalová, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the report calls for swift cross-border cooperation. This means consumer protection and food authorities, consumer associations and the EU Commission sharing data on potentially non-compliant products.
MEPs also want a common testing approach to gather “reliable and comparable evidence” and help ascertain how serious and widespread the practice is. These test results must be published in a publicly-available database and analysed “no later than by the end of 2018”.
Policitians also called on manufacturers to add a logo to their products’ packaging that informs consumers the content and quality of the same brand is the same across EU countries.
Manufacturers say there can be legitimate reasons for changing recipes.
When Sehnalová’s report was approved by members of the European Union's parliamentary committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) earlier this summer, a spokesperson for trade association FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) said it welcomed 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".
But one MEP addressing the Parliament this morning ahead of the vote said: A three-month old baby does not have different tastes from one country to another. We simply want equality […] and deeds to follow up the words.”
Sehnalová said: “Dual quality products undermine citizens' confidence in the fair functioning of the EU internal market, and therefore require a solution at EU level.
“If the product, no matter whether it is a well-known food, drink, cosmetics or detergent, differs even though it appears identical to the consumer, this should be considered an unfair commercial practice. There can be neither second-class products, nor consumers, in the EU.”
German Green politician Julia Reda called the practice "insulting to consumers" while Polish EPP member Adam Szejnfeld said he believed the practice to be "a criminal offence” and “fraud".
MEPs welcomed the Commission’s New Deal for Consumers proposed in April this but said it needed further clarification, adding that they were “strongly convinced” an amendment to Annex I (which lists prohibited practices) explicitly referring to dual quality “would address unjustified cases of dual quality in the most effective way”.
Health and food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said the Commission had “a sincere desire to work with MEPs and find a solution that at the same time does not create distortions in the single market”.
The European Commission has committed €2 million to a joint research centre tasked with developing a methodology to help uncover this practice as well as a common testing approach for the whole of the EU.