Sunday, 31 July 2011

Online reporting of suspicious food products and misleading food product information - new consumer protection method adopted in Germany

In the last post I mentioned new safety measures that the European Commission is planning to take in order to assure that food producers fully and truthfully inform consumers about the products they are offering for sale. It turns out that the European Commission is not alone in its concerns about food product claims and that national consumer organizations and authorities are already undertaking actions that are to increase consumer protection in this area.

In Germany, for example, a new website has been created in the past weeks: lebensmittelklarheit.de that consumers may use in order to report food products that they think had been labelled incorrectly as to their ingredients and their origins. The website is financed by the German Ministry of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs and controlled by the Germany's main consumer advocacy group, Verbraucherzentrale. You might wonder how reliable the complaints posted by consumers on this website can be - after all, there are always people who will be convinced that a given food product is a fraud, regardless the evidence to the contrary. What makes this website more beneficial to consumers is that the claims and complaints posted by consumers are being recorded by a group of experts. Their task is to check whether these complaints are plausible and if yes, then they are undertaking to contact responsible food companies to offer them an opportunity to change their product or label. It's this expert group that then publishes the complaint as either one that reports a fraudulent information about a particular food product, or one that has contributed to modifying the product (or product information) conform to food safety rules. 

This new method of consumer protection seems to be tailor-fitted to what consumers really need. Why? Well, a consumer does not have to go to court or address authorities any longer, in what is often a time-demanding, filled with formalities procedure. Now, he may just fill a form online from a safety of his own house and in this way let the authorities know that a certain food producer does not play by the rules. I hope that this German initiative will spread to other European countries, as well.

Want to read more about it? Read an article on the functioning of this website: Consumer protection website targets fraudulent labeling.

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