Country of origin of fruits and vegetables – the effects of incorrect marking of products

The season for domestic fruit and vegetables is in full swing. For many consumers, the fact that such products originates from domestic plantations is crucial when making a purchase decision.

Thus it is very important to correctly mark the country of origin of a given product, which – as shown by the inspections carried out by the Trade Quality Inspector of Agricultural and Food Products – is not always the rule. Large retail chains are leaders in mislabelling of the country of origin, as evidenced by the initiation of proceedings by the President of Polish Office for Competition and Consumer Protection in May 2020 against the owner of one of the largest discount chains in Poland.

In the European Union, fruit and vegetables are products whose quality and labelling are defined by marketing standards in accordance with art. 74 et seq of the Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 establishing a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products. The delegated acts on marketing standards by products or sectors are issued by the European Commission.

With regard to vegetables and fruit, the so-called general marketing standard and for specific types the specific marketing standards are applied.

Specific marketing standards apply to vegetables and fruits such as apples, citrus fruits, kiwi, peaches, nectarines, pears, strawberries, table grapes, lettuce, endives, sweet peppers, tomatoes.

In any case, the compulsory element of the product label is the indication of the full name of the country of origin. For products originating in a Member State this shall be in the language of the country of origin or any other language understandable by the consumers of the country of destination. For other products, this shall be in any language understandable by the consumers of the country of destination.

Incorrect designation of the country of origin or absence of such designation means that the consumer is misled, and thus may constitute a practice that violates the collective interests of consumers within the meaning of the Act on Competition and Consumer Protection. If this type of practice is found, the President of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection may not only order the entrepreneur to abandon such practice, but also impose on the entrepreneur a financial penalty of up to 10% of the turnover achieved in the financial year preceding the year of imposing the penalty.

What is significant, the President of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection may also impose a fine of up to PLN 2,000,000 on managers, if the collective consumer interests were violated as a result of their actions or omissions.

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