Dual quality of branded food products: Addressing a possible east-west divide

20-06-2017

Recent tests on branded food in three 'new' EU Member States have shown that the taste and composition of these products, sold under the same name and in the same packaging, sometimes differ from the 'same' products sold in neighbouring 'old' Member States. While the ingredients were generally properly labelled and the products were considered safe for consumption, some of those in 'new' Member States were considered to be of inferior quality and less healthy, and were also more expensive. Similar claims have previously been made concerning cosmetics and laundry detergents. Companies are known to change the composition of their branded products to adjust to local taste, local ingredients, divergent purchasing power, etc. EU legislation does not consider this to be misleading, as long as the products are safe, properly labelled and not falsely advertised as being identical to those sold in another Member State. At the same time, trademark law, while protecting the right of the trademark owner to communicate the origin and quality of products by using a mark, does not offer the consumer a legally enforceable guarantee. In 2013 the European Parliament asked the Commission to look into the matter, and in 2017 a group of MEPs issued a major interpellation asking the Commission to make proposals to amend EU legislation in connection with the 'dual quality' of products. The Commission has so far been reluctant to take this path, preferring to address the issue in the High-Level Forum for a better functioning food supply chain.

Recent tests on branded food in three 'new' EU Member States have shown that the taste and composition of these products, sold under the same name and in the same packaging, sometimes differ from the 'same' products sold in neighbouring 'old' Member States. While the ingredients were generally properly labelled and the products were considered safe for consumption, some of those in 'new' Member States were considered to be of inferior quality and less healthy, and were also more expensive. Similar claims have previously been made concerning cosmetics and laundry detergents. Companies are known to change the composition of their branded products to adjust to local taste, local ingredients, divergent purchasing power, etc. EU legislation does not consider this to be misleading, as long as the products are safe, properly labelled and not falsely advertised as being identical to those sold in another Member State. At the same time, trademark law, while protecting the right of the trademark owner to communicate the origin and quality of products by using a mark, does not offer the consumer a legally enforceable guarantee. In 2013 the European Parliament asked the Commission to look into the matter, and in 2017 a group of MEPs issued a major interpellation asking the Commission to make proposals to amend EU legislation in connection with the 'dual quality' of products. The Commission has so far been reluctant to take this path, preferring to address the issue in the High-Level Forum for a better functioning food supply chain.