The Czech government is poised to amend the Food and Consumer Protection acts so as to ban the practice of “dual quality” sales of food and other products. If signed into law, retailers would be banned from selling inferior quality products that appear to be the same as superior ones sold elsewhere in the EU.
But a long-anticipated revamp of EU consumer protection rules approved last month by the European Parliament stops short of outright banning the practice. As far as Brussels is concerned, if the packing accurately lists the ingredients or contents, such sales are not illegal. For now, it has been left it to national consumer authorities whether to pursue legal action against companies engaged in dual-quality product practices.
The Czech government is ready to do so. On Monday, ahead of a cabinet meeting at which the proposals were to be discussed, the country’s agriculture minister announced fines of up to 50 million crowns against retailers, rather than producers, were envisioned.
It’s a far cry from what EU Justice and Consumers Commissioner Vĕra Jourová, a Czech national, had sought two summers ago when successfully pushing to amend the bloc’s Unfair Commercial Practice Directive to forbid dual food quality sales.
“We want them [producers] to raise the quality of products where it is at this moment lower. The second best option is for them to be rebranded. But that’s not what I wish. I want high quality everywhere…. We’re not ‘naming and shaming’ now – we haven’t mentioned concrete brands – but when we have the evidence, we won’t hesitate to advise consumers not to buy these products.”
In fact, tests carried out by Czech researchers have found many concrete cases. For example, the same brand of frozen fish fingers sold in Germany with a fifth more fish than the same product sold here, the same chocolate with far less cocoa, the same laundry detergent with less cleaning agents – and the list goes on.
Tomáš Prouza, head of the Czech Confederation of Commerce and Tourism, says apart from the EU not actually banning such sales – and debate still raging on how different packing must be – retailers here are effectively blocked from offering the superior products.
“The current agreement in Brussels solves half of the problem – there cannot be one label and package for two different products. That’s a good first step. But to really solve this problem, Czech stores must be able to buy those better fish fingers available in Germany. Today, they must go through a local distributor that offers only the worse version. They cannot put both on their counters and let customers choose.”
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has met separately in recent weeks with Czech and international retailers and distributors to discuss the situation and announced plans to meet again with all parties concerned before putting the proposed amendments to the Food and Consumer Protection acts to a vote in parliament.
Meanwhile, the proposed amendments before the Czech government are stricter than the EU’s compromise – and will likely enter into force sooner.
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