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Prime Ministers, Ministers,
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address this Consumer Summit on the issue of dual quality of foods.
As European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety – and as a citizen of Lithuania – I am here to reaffirm that in the European Union, all citizens have equal status.
There are no second class citizens; no second class consumers.
In the field of Food Safety, a number of important safeguards are in place to ensure universal standards. Indeed, a comprehensive set of rules is in place to ensure the safety of our food, from farm to fork.
Other rules make sure consumers get proper information on the food they consume, on which to base their dietary choices.
So in relation to any discussion on "dual quality" today, I am reassured to note that we have seen no evidence to date of any violation of food safety rules.
You, Minister Matečná, some other colleagues and consumers from some Member States tell us that sometimes, without good reason, the same foods may be sold in different Member States under similar identity or packaging, but with different composition or with ingredients of different quality.
But even in those cases, we have confirmation that our common EU labelling rules have been respected.
So what is the issue here?
We hear about unjustified differences between products offered under the same or similar identity. In principle, across the Single Market, producers are free to offer foods with different composition or quality for reasons linked to the sourcing of ingredients, to local tastes or to other consumer preferences, to name a few examples.
However, the consumer must not be misled about the composition or characteristics of foods by information on food labels.
I would add that differences between products also arise when we support Member States by encouraging the reformulation of foods on their national markets, reducing for example sugar or salt content in foods over time.
This can be a gradual process, sometimes taking place at different speeds in different Member States, with the ultimate goal of encouraging healthier choices for consumers.
We must however recognise that the best system of food legislation will not work if it fails to win the trust and confidence of citizens and consumers.
Commissioner Jourová has outlined what the Commission has already done and steps to be taken in the near future. I offer my full support for this comprehensive action plan. All existing tools should first be explored and exploited to the full.
We must all make an active contribution.
Consumers themselves must contribute to the process of addressing the "dual quality" issue with their views and insights.
And crucially, food producers and retailers need to play their part. I would strongly urge the industry to pay very close attention and to understand that what they may see as part of routine business may have been ill perceived.
We need to make Europe a place where each and every person has access to good, healthy food at affordable prices;
Overweight and obesity continue to rise in Europe. We therefore need to create conditions that make healthy food easily available and affordable to all – so that people can reduce their intake of salt, fat and sugars – which help to prevent diseases
In short, we need to make "the healthy food choice, the easy food choice".
One area which we are addressing at EU level is food reformulation to encourage reductions of sugar, salt and fats in processed foods.
To succeed, we need:
a responsible marketing of food,
Member States to promote actively reformulation policies.
The EU Pledge is an interesting example, whereby food companies, on a voluntary basis, have agreed not to advertise food high in fat, salt and sugar to children. This could be a good example to build upon to promote healthy choice as an easy choice and address the concerns around dual quality
So let us all join in an open dialogue to gain a better and comprehensive understanding of where we stand and what needs to be done.
Today, we have come together to consider how we can best protect consumers.
We need to ensure that at the end of the process, consumers should be able to see that they are not, or they will no longer be, exposed to any form of discrimination.
What everyone deserves, and what we all should strive for, is very simple: one class of citizen – first class.