European Commission guidelines on dual quality of branded food products

Briefing 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 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.