New European directive aims to end practice of dual quality of foods and other products

Foto: Lenka Žižková

A new directive was announced by the European Commission on Wednesday which spells the end of dual quality in numerous international brand foods and other products across different EU countries. The quality of ingredients in some brand name items was for years inferior in parts of the former communist bloc. Prague and other newer EU members have long pressed for legislation threatening companies continuing the practice with stiff fines.

Photo: Lenka Žižková,  Radio Prague International
The dual quality of food and other products was the subject of a summit of the Visegrad Four last year as well as a key issue for Slovakia’s V4 presidency. Soon, the identical branding of goods with a poorer grade or different ingredients across different countries should be a thing of the past.

The European Commission took the decision on Wednesday to ban the practice and impose punitive fines. A press conference by the Czech Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, filled in the details. But the Council of Europe will still have to weigh in and the proposal will also need to be voted on in the European Parliament. Last year, the EC President Jean-Claude Juncker said what was needed were powers by national authorities to take counter measures and deal with the problem.

In the Czech Republic, that means in the future that the Czech Trade Inspection Authority (CTIA) would have the power to target offenders and impose heavy fines. Ahead of Wednesday’s decision Czech Radio spoke to Secretary of State for European Affairs Aleš Chmelař:

“This is something we had long been pushing for. The commission avoided introducing legislation for some time, opting instead for approaches which would make it easier to identify the products in question. The directive is a big step forward.”

The Secretary of State for European Affairs described how the trade inspectorate would be given room to take steps and give harsh fines of up to four percent of international companies’ annual turnover. The toughest competition fines for the worst malpractice are 10 percent of turnover.

Aleš Chmelař,  photo: archive of Czech Government
“Because we are talking about very large firms that repeatedly resort to such practices, I think four percent represents quite a large fine. It is the upper limit, usually fines aren’t that high, even for other offences. I think that the threat of a high fine would be a tool which would really end the abusive practice.”

Close cooperation is also expected between other national trade inspection and consumer authorities. Secretary of State for European Affairs Aleš Chmelař again:

“Such cooperation was already an important aspect of earlier initiatives by the European Commission. Individual consumer protection agencies should work using the same system to identify products in question. That kind of cooperation is important in the proposal now as well.”