Dual Food Quality: Commission releases study assessing differences in the composition of EU food products

food stand

(Dan Gold, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.

Yesterday, the Commission published the results of a pan-European testing campaign of food products showing that some products are identically or similarly branded while having a different composition.

Since his State of the Union Address in 2017, President Jean-Claude Juncker has been committed to addressing the issue of dual quality of products. The European Commission has taken forward different initiatives and yesterday published a study following tests of food products across the EU using the same methodology, in order to better understand the dual quality of food products in the EU. Analysing nearly 1,400 food products in 19 EU countries, the study, carried out by the Commission’s in-house science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre, shows that 9% of the compared products differed in composition, although the front-of-pack was identical. A further 22% of products with a different composition had a similar front-of-pack. The study did not show a consistent geographical pattern. Based on the new methodology developed, national competent authorities will now be able to perform the case by case analysis required to determine misleading practices prohibited under EU consumer law.

Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, responsible for the Joint Research Centre, said: “Some Europeans feel branded food products they buy are different, perhaps worse, compared to those available elsewhere. The Commission called on our scientists to help objectively assess the extent of such differences on the single market. The results are mixed: while I am happy that they found no evidence of an East-West divide in the composition of branded food products, I am worried that they uncovered up to one third of tested products having different compositions while being identically or similarly branded.”

Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: “There will be no double standards in Europe’s single market. With the new laws penalizing the dual quality and strengthening the hands of the consumer authorities, we have the tools at hand to put an end to this practice. European consumers will be able to do their shopping in full trust that they buy what they see.

Main findings

The study assessed 1,380 samples of 128 different food products from 19 Member States. The sample is, however, not representative of the vast diversity of food products on the EU market. The study found that:

  • In the majority of cases, the composition matched the way products were presented: 23% of products had an identical front-of-pack and an identical composition, and 27% of products signaled their different composition in different EU countries with a different front-of-pack.
  • 9% of products presented as being the same across the EU had a different composition: they had an identical front-of-pack, but a different composition.
  • A further 22% of products presented in a similar way had a different composition: they had a similar front-of-pack, yet a different composition.
  • There is no consistent geographical pattern in the use of the same or similar packaging for products with different compositions. Moreover, the difference in the composition found in the products tested do not necessarily constitute a difference in product quality.

Commission action on this issue

Since the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has been addressing the issue of dual quality of products in his State of the Union Address in 2017, the European Commission has taken forward different initiatives by:

  • clarifying when dual quality of products is a misleading practice through legislation under the recently agreed New Deal for Consumers;
  • establishing a common methodology for the testing of food products;
  • issuing a set of guidelines to help national authorities apply EU consumer and food legislation;
  • dedicating over €4.5 million to solve this issue;
  • testing products across the EU with the same methodology to get a better understanding of dual quality of goods.

Next steps

The European Commission launched yesterday a new call for proposals with a total budget of €1.26 million to strengthen consumer organisations’ capacities to test products and identify potentially misleading practices. The deadline for applications is 6 November 2019.


According to EU legislation, marketing a  good as identical to one marketed in another Member States while that good has a significantly different composition or characteristics which cannot be justified by legitimate and objective reasons could unfairly and illegally mislead consumers.

The study, conducted by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre, describes the situation found on the markets of the nineteen participating Member States during the period the survey was carried out (November-December 2018). The testing campaign was part of the European Commission’s response to concerns about dual quality foods. The products were selected based on Member States’ suggestions, following complaints to consumer protection authorities or associations.

Testing was based on a harmonised methodology developed in cooperation with Member States by the Joint Research Centre. This methodology allows for comparable sampling, testing and data interpretation across the EU. All EU Member States were invited to collect information regarding the composition of the selected food products offered on their markets. Nineteen EU Member States submitted information on 113 branded and 15 private label products. As a first step, this analysis is based on information from the product labels and the front-of-pack appearance of the products.

The report published yesterday will provide a better basis for the discussion of dual quality in the EU. However, further steps and research are needed to make the assessment more representative, and to better understand the link between composition and quality.

The Member States that participated in the survey were: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and The Netherlands.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Investment, not debt, can kick-start an entrepreneurial Europe

‘Stay together and step up’ action to meet Global Goals, ECOSOC President tells development forum

This is what the world’s youngest prime minister said at Davos 2020

Distributed ownership: what it means and how it could transform India

IFMSA and IPSF on the Health of Migrants and Refugees

Raw materials: Commission launches new online portal to support responsible sourcing in businesses

This South Korean city once had the biggest coronavirus outbreak outside of China. Now it’s reported zero new cases

European Court of Justice to Google: It is #righttobeforgotten but not #righttoberemembered

Multilateralism’s ‘proven record of service’ is focus of first-ever International Day

These countries give the most aid – and are the most principled about it

Obama, Crimea and the TTIP pill

China greenlights first underwater high-speed railway

Mexico: UNICEF calls for implementation of protocol to protect migrant children

Could Rwanda become Africa’s healthcare leader?

2018 ‘terrifying’ for Yemenis but ultimately a ‘year for hope’ says UN Special Envoy

More beehives and beekeepers thanks to EU support

Why EU’s working and unemployed millions remain uncertain or even desperate about their future

Cutting CO2 emissions from trucks: MEPs reach deal with Council

VAT: EU Member States still losing almost €150 billion in revenues according to new figures

Taxation: Commission refers Spain to the Court for imposing disproportionate sanctions for failure to report assets held abroad

Earth Hour 2019: switch off your lights, and become an innovator

One migrant child reported dead or missing every day, UN calls for more protection

More than half of world’s refugee children ‘do not get an education’, warns UNHCR

Job vacancy data reveal better prospects for Britain, stagnation in Eurozone

Inside the battle to counteract the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’

Brexit and migration dominates the debate on October’s EU summit

Country origin ‘best predictor of outcome’ for children with cancer, UN experts say

Going climate-neutral: expert-group recommendations to help energy-intensive industries contribute to the EU’s 2050 target

UN health emergency committee to re-convene on global threat posed by China coronavirus

Violence in North and West Africa increasingly targeting civilian and border areas – OECD/SWAC

Security Council discusses chemical weapons use in Syria following latest global watchdog report

Scientists are using machine learning to unlock the mysteries of long-dead languages

UN sees progress in fight against tobacco, warns more action needed to help people quit deadly product

Reducing deforestation means getting serious about environmental crime

Meet Cipta: the comic book hero using her powers to tackle bullying in schools

The world’s largest bus system is starting to go electric

European Parliament calls on Russia to end occupation of Georgian territories

10 of Albert Einstein’s best quotes

Technology and public healthcare: the basis to fight COVID-19

3 unexpected consequences of the US-China trade war

Prisoner executions in Belarus ‘simply unacceptable’, says UN rights body

Armed groups kill Ebola health workers in eastern DR Congo

Everyone’s ‘buy-in’ needed to restore peace in Kosovo, UN envoy tells Security Council

Easing funding woes for UN agency assisting Palestine refugees a ‘wise investment for today and the future’

What’s needed now to fight COVID-19 – Updates from today’s WHO briefing

European Commission recommends common EU approach to the security of 5G networks

Cutting money transfer fees could unlock $15bn for developing countries. Here’s how

UN General Assembly President upholds value of multilateralism in speech closing annual debate

A Sting Exclusive: “Technology for all, development for all: the role of ITU”, written by the Secretary General of the United Nations Agency

Matthias in Canada

Who threatens the lives and livelihoods of Ukrainians?

Young activists share four ways to create a more inclusive world

Universal Health Coverage will ‘drive progress’ on 2030 Development Agenda

The anti-vaccine movement shows the peril of a post-truth world

How does your immune system work?

This forgotten chemical element could be the key to our green energy future

6 facts to know about EU alternative investment funds

‘You can and should do more’ to include people with disabilities, wheelchair-bound Syrian advocate tells Security Council in searing speech

Can Eurozone’s uncertain growth answer the challenges that lie ahead?

‘Revved up climate action’ needed to counter ‘prolonged’ and deadly storms like Cyclone Idai: Guterres

More Stings?


Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s