Q1/2017/JAP- Query from the Bulgarian Ombudsman concerning dual quality of food products available in different markets of the EU Member States
Riassunto di chiusura - Caso Q1/2017/JAP - Aperto(a) il Lunedì | 10 aprile 2017 - Decisione del Giovedì | 05 ottobre 2017
Facts and background
On 10 March 2017, the Bulgarian Ombudsman wrote to the Commissioner for Justice and Consumers’ Rights about different quality of food products in the ‘new’ Member States. In her opinion, using lower quality food products in Central and Eastern Europe is damaging for health of the consumers, in particular for children. She voiced her concerns that such double standards practices are discriminatory. She also noted that the Visegrad Group had recently raised similar concerns.
On 16 March 2017, the European Ombudsman received a letter from the Office of the Bulgarian Ombudsman concerning dual quality of food products available in different markets of the EU Member States.
With the consent of the Bulgarian Ombudsman, the European Ombudsman’s Office treated that letter as a query concerning the General Food Law Regulation, which ensures a high level of protection of human life and consumers' interests in relation to food, while ensuring the effective functioning of the internal market.
On 10 April 2017, the European Ombudsman requested the Commission to:
(i) explain its roadmap for action towards eliminating dual quality of food products available in different markets of the EU Member States, and the relative timeline;
(ii) explain how the consumer protection cooperation network and the high-level forum for a better functioning food supply chain may address the issue of dual quality of food products available in different markets of the EU Member States; and
(iii) clarify whether Articles 5 and 8 of the General Food Law Regulation read in conjunction with its Recital 8 could be interpreted to mean that these provisions prohibit (a) the marketing of dual quality food products in different geographic segments of the internal market in general, and (b) the marketing of two versions of a product, one healthier (for humans in particular) than the other, presented to consumers as the same product.
In its reply of 30 May 2017, the Commission informed the Ombudsman's inquiry team that it was aware of the results of the studies carried out in several Member States about differences in quality of food products and had taken these concerns seriously. It noted that it had raised the issue with national authorities in charge of consumer protection and requested that they provide information and further evidence as regards the existence, the extent and the possible reasons for those alleged practices.
As regards points (i) and (ii) ,the Commission explained that it would firstly analyse the data and evidence collected by the consumer protection authorities in view of the Sherpa group meeting of the High Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain on 20 June 2017, in line with the conclusions of the European Council of 9 March 2017. It stated that it would allow for a meaningful and fact-based discussion between all the stakeholders involved, including amongst others national authorities, food manufacturers, consumers, producers and retailers. It added that a road map of further actions would be discussed at that stage, if considered useful.
Regarding point (iii), the Commission stated that EU law did not prohibit marketing of food products under the same brand but with different composition or quality of the ingredients in different EU Member States, provided that they were safe and consumers were correctly informed of their composition accordingly. It also explained that product composition might change from one Member State to another. For instance, Member States can impose a particular composition of a food product with respect to certain nutrients as part of their overall public health strategy.
Finally, the Commission observed that voluntary efforts at national level attempted to reformulate the composition of certain food products and adjust their content in salt, sugar and other nutrients, to which food business operators may subscribe.
The Ombudsman forwarded the Commission’s reply to the Bulgarian Ombudsman for possible comments. However, the Bulgarian Ombudsman did not avail herself of this opportunity.
Taking into account the content of the Commission's exhaustive reply, the European Ombudsman’s Office concluded that the query was successfully completed.
The European Ombudsman’s Office thanked the Commission for its excellent co-operation in this query procedure and for its efforts to provide a reply within a short period of time. She also requested the Commission to inform her within 6 months about the progress made on this issue.
 Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety
 The Union has also competence to promote and ensure a high level of consumer protection pursuant to Article 169 TFEU.
 More information is available at the following link: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/food/competitiveness/supply-chain-forum_en
 Conclusions by the President of the European Council, 9 March 2017, are available here: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/03/09-conclusion-pec/