Consumer rights and food safety
A new strategy for consumer policy to deal with problems faced by consumers, especially in the light of the current economic crisis, is strongly advocated by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group Group.
The effective and comprehensive protection of consumers' rights, particularly in the light of the current economic crisis, in which they have become more vulnerable, is central to our Group's work. Consumers need more accessible mechanisms for redress, more product safety and full certification country of origin markings that ensure products are not harmful to health. Human rights, workers' rights and environmental protection criteria should be prerequisites for the importation of goods. We want workers in the global South to be protected from the deadly consequences of global capitalism.
A report on a new strategy for consumer policy was adopted by the Parliament in November 2011. The report dealt with issues such as the problems faced by consumers, especially in the light of the economic crisis, product safety, appeal mechanisms for redress, compensation, and also sought to curb misleading advertising, particularly widespread advertising targeting children. The group considered that the adoption of the report was a step in the right direction towards the effective and comprehensive protection of consumers' rights especially in the light of the economic crisis in which they have become more vulnerable.
On the occasion of the vote of a subsequent report on the 2014-2020 consumer programme, the group said that this programme would not substantially strengthen consumer rights in the single market and retained too many shortcomings. The group bemoaned the lack of proposals for tackling current problems in the single market and their impact on consumers. The report stressed the importance of more competition, and more growth with no consideration for consumers and the result of negotiations on the report was far from satisfactory as it failed to acknowledge the role of the economic crisis in the current situation and did not include any proposals to change this. The text made no reference to the current situation in the internal market, which is responsible to some extent for the economic crisis we face. Moreover, it includes recommendations for addressing the situation via market liberalisation and even more competition and ignores the fact that these policies have led to increased prices, lower quality and fewer social services. We cannot ignore the need to protect consumers from the effects of competitiveness.
NOVEL FOODS & CLONING
A report by Dutch GUE/NGL MEP Kartika Liotard on revising the regulation on novel foods was adopted by the Environment Committee. In adopting the report, the Committee agreed with the controversial point that foods derived from animals fed with genetically modified organisms should be labelled and that foods made from cloned animals or their offspring should be excluded from the regulation. It also called for a moratorium on this as long as specific legislation for cloning was not adopted. Parliament subsequently supported the proposal to exclude food from cloned animals from rules on the authorisation of these foods.
However, during negotiations to broker a deal on new EU rules on novel foods, both the Council and Commission ignored this proposal. As a compromise, Parliament's negotiators proposed mandatory labelling of food from offspring of clones, rather than a ban. Consumers would then be able to choose whether they want food produced indirectly via cloning technology. But even that was too much to ask.
Despite attempts to block them, food industry lobbyists won a major victory in the European Parliament in their campaign to stamp out efforts to introduce a simple colour-coding system for labels on food and beverage products. The group expressed its disappointment for consumers and criticised MEPs for siding with industry following a massive lobbying drive.
Responding to the Commission, the group said that despite the Commission's assertion that regardless of the legislation in place, there will always be criminals seeking to cheat the system in the pursuit of cheap profit, this should not mean that, as regulators, MEPs should allow it to continue. "We have a responsibility to make any criminal activity – especially in the food supply chain – as difficult as possible. Although the EU can claim to have one of the most developed traceability systems in the world, it is clearly not 100% fit for purpose in the processing sector."