Food Law News - EU - 2007

EP News, 10 May 2007

WEIGHTS - More choice of package sizes for shoppers

Parliament gave qualified backing on 10 May to the Council's common position on a proposal to deregulate pack sizes for pre-packed products. Once the legislation is implemented, it will be possible to sell many everyday consumer products in a wider range of sizes than at present.

By deregulating current rules for all but a few basic product groups, the EU is aiming to maximise competition and provide more freedom of choice for consumers. The legislation will permit industry to produce goods in a potentially infinite range of sizes by preventing Member States from legislating on pack sizes other than those still regulated by European law. There is no question of banning the pint of milk: producers will be free to determine what sizes should be sold.

Changing consumer needs

In the 1960s different national rules on nominal quantities of pre-packed products (pack/bottle sizes) were a major barrier to trade in such goods between the EC Member States. There was thus a need to harmonise these sizes.

For some products (e.g. wine, spirits) total harmonisation was introduced: Community sizes were made mandatory for everyone, i.e. all national sizes were abolished.

Given changes in the retail industry and consumer preferences, the European Union has taken a fresh look at the situation. The aim of the new directive is to relax the rules on pack sizes in general while keeping standard sizes for a limited range of products.

First reading: Parliament seeks more exemptions

In its draft legislation, the European Commission proposed retaining mandatory EU sizes for a handful of goods (spirits, wines, soluble coffee, white sugar and most products sold in aerosols).

At its first reading, Parliament welcomed the broad thrust of the legislation but voted to retain mandatory EU sizes for a further six product groups: drinking milk, butter, ground or unground roasted coffee, dried pasta, rice and brown sugar.

Second reading: MEPs seek to split the difference with Council

In its common position, the Council rejected Parliament's amendments, instead setting a transitional period of five years for phasing out existing national rules on sizes for domestic producers of milk, butter, coffee, dried pasta and rice, and six years for white sugar.

Voting today on the second-reading report by Jacques TOUBON (EPP-ED, FR), Parliament decided to accept most of these provisions but - following up on an issue vigorously pushed by British MEPs - spelt out the fact that existing sizes for pre-packed products (such as pre-packed bread) "will not be affected by this directive and can continue to be used". All the institutions agree that mandatory sizes should continue to apply to wines and spirits.

Parliament would also like the Commission to revisit the legislation at a later date in the light of market developments. And if the Commission notes "a disturbance of market conditions and/or a destabilisation of consumer behaviour" it "may authorise Member States to maintain transitional periods and, in particular, to maintain the most sold mandatory range sizes."

Parliament's position has already been accepted by the Member States' delegations to the Council, which is thus expected to approve the legislation as amended.
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