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Dual quality of products – State of play

25-11-2019

In recent years, the concern that some branded products might be inferior in the Member States that have joined the European Union (EU) since 2004 has become ever more apparent. This concern has come to be known as the 'dual quality of products'. To address the issue, between 2018 and 2019, the European Commission's Joint Research Service (JRC) compared a set of branded food products sold under the same name and in the same or similar packaging across Member States – the first time a harmonised testing ...

In recent years, the concern that some branded products might be inferior in the Member States that have joined the European Union (EU) since 2004 has become ever more apparent. This concern has come to be known as the 'dual quality of products'. To address the issue, between 2018 and 2019, the European Commission's Joint Research Service (JRC) compared a set of branded food products sold under the same name and in the same or similar packaging across Member States – the first time a harmonised testing methodology has been used to compare products from the whole of the European Union. The analysis sought to determine whether, despite the identical or similar packaging, there were differences in product composition and, if so, whether those differences corresponded to any geographical pattern. Results showed that about one third of the branded food products analysed had a composition that differed from one Member State to another. However, the results did not point to any geographical pattern that might explain those differences. In 2017, the Commission had already sought to clarify the relevant legislation with a notice introducing a test that national consumer protection authorities could use to determine on a case by case basis whether the dual quality of food products was misleading. Later, in April 2018, in the framework of the 'new deal for consumers', its proposal for a new directive on modernisation of EU consumer protection rules sought to include the dual quality of products (not just of food products) in the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. The European Parliament has long voiced its concerns about the dual quality of products and had called for it to be added to the 'blacklist' of practices that should always be considered as banned. However, the text of the new directive on modernisation of consumer protection rules as adopted by the co-legislators did not include dual quality as a practice that must be considered unfair in all cases, but rather as one that must be proven to be misleading on a case-by-case basis. The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has criticised this, while business organisations defend the right of companies to differentiate their products in different markets.

Strengthening market surveillance of harmonised industrial products

29-07-2019

Harmonised products represent 69 % of the overall value of industrial products in the internal market. However, a significant part of these products does not comply with harmonised EU rules. This has negative effects on the health and safety of consumers, and on fair competition between businesses. To remedy the situation, in 2017 the Commission proposed to strengthen market surveillance rules for non-food products harmonised by EU legislation. Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement ...

Harmonised products represent 69 % of the overall value of industrial products in the internal market. However, a significant part of these products does not comply with harmonised EU rules. This has negative effects on the health and safety of consumers, and on fair competition between businesses. To remedy the situation, in 2017 the Commission proposed to strengthen market surveillance rules for non-food products harmonised by EU legislation. Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on the proposal in February 2019. The new regulation was signed on 20 June and published in the Official Journal on 25 June 2019, applying in full from July 2021. It aims to increase EU-level coordination of market surveillance and clarify the procedures for the mutual assistance mechanism. Non-EU manufacturers of products that could cause an elevated level of risk to public interest will have to designate an importer, an authorised representative or a fulfilment service provider established in the EU. Fifth edition. The 'EU Legislation in Progress' briefings are updated at key stages throughout the legislative procedure.

EU food quality scheme

08-07-2019

The quality of European agricultural products often relies on their geographical origins, the traditional recipes used to make them, and the methods used in production and processing. These human and geographical factors are intrinsic to making a product unique. In 1992, the EU developed a quality scheme for foodstuffs, including the designation of their origin. The objectives of the EU quality scheme are to provide consumers with clear information, allowing them to make a more informed choice, and ...

The quality of European agricultural products often relies on their geographical origins, the traditional recipes used to make them, and the methods used in production and processing. These human and geographical factors are intrinsic to making a product unique. In 1992, the EU developed a quality scheme for foodstuffs, including the designation of their origin. The objectives of the EU quality scheme are to provide consumers with clear information, allowing them to make a more informed choice, and to indicate the added value of a given product. The protection of European local and gastronomic traditions, especially against imitation in third countries, is another important aim of the regulations. Consequently, the EU's engagement in protecting its registered products on the global market is a contentious issue in the negotiation of many trade agreements.

Policy Departments' Monthly Highlights - January 2019

14-01-2019

The Monthly Highlights publication provides an overview, at a glance, of the on-going work of the policy departments, including a selection of the latest and forthcoming publications, and a list of future events.

The Monthly Highlights publication provides an overview, at a glance, of the on-going work of the policy departments, including a selection of the latest and forthcoming publications, and a list of future events.

Quality Differences in Consumer Products In the EU Legislation

30-11-2018

This study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the PETI Committee, deals with so called dual quality products, that is goods (food products, detergents, cosmetics, toiletries and products intended for babies, etc.) marketed on the Single Market under the same brand or trademark but with differences in content, composition or quality in individual EU Member States. The issue of dual quality products is one of ...

This study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the PETI Committee, deals with so called dual quality products, that is goods (food products, detergents, cosmetics, toiletries and products intended for babies, etc.) marketed on the Single Market under the same brand or trademark but with differences in content, composition or quality in individual EU Member States. The issue of dual quality products is one of the recent issues that the EU has only begun to focus on in recent years. Initially, it was rather an individual initiative of the individual MEPs, subsequently the European Parliament as a whole and the European Commission began to deal with it. The European Commission issued several legal standards that initially interpreted the existing legal regulation, later directly identified dual quality as an unfair commercial practice.

Externe Autor

doc. JUDr. Blanka VÍTOVÁ, Vice-dean for Science and Research, Palacký University Olomouc (Czech Republic)

Mandatory origin-labelling schemes in Member States

12-09-2018

Eight EU Member States have launched, or are about to launch, national mandatory labelling schemes for certain food products, mainly for milk and milk used in dairy products, but also meat used in processed foods. The regulatory basis for these national measures is the Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers, which allows Member States to adopt additional national measures concerning the mandatory labelling of foodstuffs, as long as these are justified by reasons specifically ...

Eight EU Member States have launched, or are about to launch, national mandatory labelling schemes for certain food products, mainly for milk and milk used in dairy products, but also meat used in processed foods. The regulatory basis for these national measures is the Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers, which allows Member States to adopt additional national measures concerning the mandatory labelling of foodstuffs, as long as these are justified by reasons specifically defined in the regulation. The European Parliament has been supporting origin labelling in several resolutions. Consumer organisations have advocated it as well, while many industry stakeholders have highlighted the practical difficulties and costs it would bring. The European Commission has reiterated its position, based on its reports exploring the issue, that voluntary origin labelling is the best option at European level.

Revision of consumer law directives (including injunctions):the 'New Deal for Consumers'

17-04-2018

Following the creation of an internal market, in which goods should be able to circulate freely to the benefit of producers, traders and consumers alike, the digital revolution has both increased the chances for growth in trade and highlighted the existing obstacles, such as differences in the details of consumer protection legislation. Following an extensive evaluation exercise focused on a number of EU directives adopted over the years, the European Commission is keen to simplify, streamline and ...

Following the creation of an internal market, in which goods should be able to circulate freely to the benefit of producers, traders and consumers alike, the digital revolution has both increased the chances for growth in trade and highlighted the existing obstacles, such as differences in the details of consumer protection legislation. Following an extensive evaluation exercise focused on a number of EU directives adopted over the years, the European Commission is keen to simplify, streamline and modernise the existing EU consumer rules to ensure that they are future-proof, as well as to facilitate the necessary coordination and effective action from national authorities and public enforcement bodies. In its 2018 work programme, the European Commission announced that it would be introducing a package of legislative proposals including a wide range of proposed directives. The package is aimed at filling a number of very specific gaps in current EU consumer law, while also taking due account of ongoing legislative procedures related to online and offline sales of goods and digital content. This implementation appraisal aims to cover all the directives (cf. tables 1-7) that form the basis of the area targeted by the package.

Strengthening the market surveillance of products

27-03-2018

An initial appraisal of the impact assessment suggests that methodological strengths outweigh the weaknesses in this overall convincing analysis. This impact assessment is underpinned by a substantial body of work and clearly shows expertise. Nonetheless, the impact assessment could have provided more information on the links with two pending legislative procedures. Its presentation could have further facilitated consideration of the choices made by the Commission.

An initial appraisal of the impact assessment suggests that methodological strengths outweigh the weaknesses in this overall convincing analysis. This impact assessment is underpinned by a substantial body of work and clearly shows expertise. Nonetheless, the impact assessment could have provided more information on the links with two pending legislative procedures. Its presentation could have further facilitated consideration of the choices made by the Commission.

European Commission guidelines on dual quality of branded food products

07-11-2017

On 26 September 2017, the European Commission published a notice laying out guidelines on the application of EU food and consumer protection law to issues of dual quality of food products. This legally non-binding notice follows tests in seven 'new' EU Member States that compared the composition and sensory qualities of branded products sold in those countries with some of the 'old' Member States. The tests showed that some of the products included less of the main ingredient, included ingredients ...

On 26 September 2017, the European Commission published a notice laying out guidelines on the application of EU food and consumer protection law to issues of dual quality of food products. This legally non-binding notice follows tests in seven 'new' EU Member States that compared the composition and sensory qualities of branded products sold in those countries with some of the 'old' Member States. The tests showed that some of the products included less of the main ingredient, included ingredients that were considered to be less healthy and of poorer quality, or had different taste, consistency, and other sensory characteristics. Manufacturers have questioned the reliability of the tests, claiming the differences were the result of adjusting their products to local tastes or using local ingredients and different places of manufacture. The Commission notice acknowledges that producers have a right to differentiate their products, but warns that consumers must not be misled. It clarifies the provisions of EU legislation which should enable the national authorities in Member States to act. It introduces the notion of a 'product of reference', against which consumer expectations are to be measured. Consumers need to be adequately informed if a product differs from their expectations, as when inadequate information leads them to buy a product they would not otherwise buy, such dual quality may be contrary to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. Members of the European Parliament have regularly spoken out against the practice of dual quality of food, with the European Parliament asking the Commission to verify the extent of the problem as early as 2013.

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 ...

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.

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