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#ESFA - New #EU rules will make losing weight more difficult

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Specialist dieting products will become more expensive, less tasty and go off quicker after socialist MEPs blocked Conservative attempts to overturn new European Union rules, says Conservative Food Safety Spokesman Julie Girling MEP.

It is feared that changes to so-called total diet replacement products (TDRs) will see people opt for self-led diets, which often do not meet basic nutritional requirements and rarely prove successful. Alternatively, dieters may buy similar products online from outside the EU which do not meet the union's high safety standards.

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Conservative Food Safety Spokesman Julie Girling MEP said: "Existing EU standards for TDRs have proved safe and successful for 30 years so I do not understand the need for changes which provide no significant benefit to consumers.

"I am very disappointed that socialist members of the Environment Committee took the decision to oppose my resolution, which would have forced the European Commission to look at this matter again.

"Losing weight is not easy and we shouldn't be making it more difficult by subjecting people to unpalatable and pricier meal replacements."

The Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to review TDRs, which are available as meals, drinks and snacks. Scientists recommended an increase in the minimal level of Essential Fatty Acids, which help reduce blood pressure, but acknowledged this may not be needed in dieting products due the release of fatty acids from cells during weight loss.

A separate recommended increase in protein to 75g per TDR is above the EFSA's own recommended minimum intake of 50g per day.

Extra protein and EFSA affect a product's taste, shelf life and increase production costs.

"It was not the EFSA's job to consider what the revised products would look or taste like or how feasible they would be to manufacture," Mrs Girling said. "It is up to the Commission to assess the real world consequences of any changes and apply a common sense test.  This it has clearly failed to do.

"I do not dispute the EFSA's recommendations but there is an important difference between risk assessment and risk management. At a time of rising obesity and related conditions such as diabetes, we should be promoting products that can help reverse the trend."

The European Very Low Calorie Diet Industry Group has described the new rules as "disproportionate and largely unsubstantiated."

Manufacturers will have five years to introduce the changes.

 

Consumer protection

Consumer protection: Commission launches public consultation concerning the distance marketing of consumer financial services

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The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the distance marketing of financial services offered to consumers. The EU has rules in place to protect consumers when they sign a contract with a retail financial services provider at a distance, for example on the phone or online. Any service of a banking, credit, mortgage, insurance, personal pension, investment or payment nature falls under the scope of the Directive on distance marketing of consumer financial services whenever the financial service is purchased at a distance.

Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said: “It is time to adapt our EU rules to current times. Consumers purchase financial services online more and more. This public consultation will help us identify citizens and companies' needs so we can make the directive future-proof.”

 The results of the public consultation will feed into the Commission's considerations for a possible revision of the directive, expected in 2022. The public consultation will gather experiences and opinions from consumers, retail financial services professionals, national authorities and any other interested stakeholders on the directive. The public consultation is available here and will be open until 28 September 2021.

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Consumer protection

How the EU aims to boost consumer protection

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Find out how the EU aims to boost consumer protection and adapt it to new challenges such as the green transition and the digital transformation. Society 

As the economy becomes more global and digital, the EU is looking at new ways to protect consumers. During the May plenary, MEPs will debate the digital future of Europe. The report focuses on removing barriers to the functioning of the digital single market and improving the use of articial intelligence for consumers.

Infographic illustration on consumer protection in the European Union
Reinforcing consumer protection  

New consumer agenda

Parliament is also working on the new consumer agenda strategy for 2020-2025, focusing on five areas: green transition, digital transformation, effective enforcement of consumer rights, specific needs of certain consumer groups and international cooperation.

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Making it easier to consume sustainably

The 2050 climate neutrality goal is a priority for the EU and consumer issues have a role to play - through sustainable consumption and the circular economy.

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Sustainable consumption  

In November 2020, MEPs adopted a report on a sustainable single market calling on the European Commission to establish a so-called right to repair to make repairs systematic, cost efficient and attractive. Members also called for labelling the lifespan of products as well as measures to promote a culture of reuse, including guarantees on pre-owned goods.

They also want measures against purposefully designing products in a way that makes them obsolete after a certain time and reiterated demands for a common charger.

The Commission is working on right to repair rules for electronics and legislation on the environmental footprint of products to enable consumers to compare.

The review of the Sale of Goods Directive, planned for 2022, will look into whether the current two-year legal guarantee could be extended for new and pre-owned goods.

In September 2020, the Commission launched the sustainable products initiative, under the new Circular Economy Action Plan. It aims to make products fit for a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and circular economy while reducing waste. It will also address the presence of harmful chemicals in products such as electronics and ICT equipment, textiles and furniture.

Making the digital transformation safe for consumers

The digital transformation is dramatically changing our lives, including how we shop. To help EU consumer rules catch up, in December 2020 the Commission proposed a new Digital Services Act, a set of rules to improve consumer safety across online platforms in the EU, including online marketplaces.

MEPs want consumers to be equally safe when shopping online or offline and want platforms such as eBay and Amazon to step up efforts to tackle traders selling fake or unsafe products and to stop fraudulent companies using their services.

MEPs also proposed rules to protect users from harmful and illegal content online while safeguarding freedom of speech and called for new rules on online advertising giving users more control.

Given the impact of artificial Intelligence, the EU is preparing rules to manage its opportunities and threats. Parliament has set up a special committee and emphasises the need for human centric legislation. The Parliament has proposed a civil liability regime for artificial intelligence that establishes who is responsible when AI systems cause harm or damage.

Strengthening the enforcement of consumer rights

EU countries are responsible for enforcing consumer rights, but the EU has a coordinating and supporting role. Among the rules it has put in place are the directive on a better enforcement and modernisation of consumer law and rules on collective redress.

Addressing specific consumer needs

Vulnerable consumers such as children, elderly people or people living with disabilities, as well as people in financial difficulties or consumers with limited access to the internet need specific safeguards. In the new consumer agenda, the Commission plans to focus on problems with internet accessibility, financially vulnerable consumers and products for children.

The Commission’s plans include more offline advice for consumers with no internet access as well as funding to improve the availability and quality of debt advice services for people in financial difficulties.

Because children are particularly vulnerable to harmful advertising, Parliament has approved stricter rules for audiovisual media services for audiovisual media services.

Guaranteeing the safety of products sold in the EU

Consumers often purchase goods manufactured outside the EU. According to the Commission, purchases from sellers outside the EU increased from 17% in 2014 to 27% in 2019 and the new consumer agenda highlights the need for international cooperation to ensure consumer protection. China was the largest supplier of goods to the EU in 2020, so the Commission will work on an action plan with them in 2021 to increase the safety of products sold online.

In November 2020, Parliament passed a resolution calling for greater efforts to ensure that all products sold in the EU are safe, whether manufactured within or outside the EU or are sold online or offline.

Next steps

Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee is working on the Commission proposal for the new consumer agenda. MEPs are expected to vote on it in September.

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#GDPR compliance: Manetu to the rescue?

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On 11 March, Swedish regulators slapped Google with a $7.6 million fine for failing to adequately respond to customers’ requests to have their personal information removed from the search engine’s listings. The penalty was the ninth-highest since the EU’s watershed General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) kicked into force in May 2018--yet it paled in comparison to the €50 million fine French data protection authorities hit Google with in January 2019.

To make matters worse, less than a week after the Swedish decision, one of Google’s smaller rivals filed a GDPR complaint with Irish regulators. The rival firm, open-source web browser Brave, alleges that the tech giant has failed to collect specific consent for sharing consumers’ data across its various services, and that its privacy policies are “hopelessly vague”. The latest complaint means that Google’s data collection practices are currently facing three open investigations by Irish privacy authorities.

Nor is Google the only company to face increased scrutiny over the management of its customers’ data. While the GDPR has netted some €114 million in fines so far, regulators across the European Union are itching to enforce the sweeping privacy regulations more thoroughly. Companies, for their part, simply aren’t prepared. Nearly two years after the GDPR entered into force, some 30% of European firms are still out of lockstep with the regulation, while surveys of European and North American executives have identified privacy risk monitoring as one of the most serious issues affecting their firms.

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Despite spending billions of euro on lawyers and data protection consultants, many companies which process and retain consumer data—in practice, nearly all businesses— have not have developed a clear plan to ensure they are fully compliant with cutting-edge privacy legislation like the GDPR. Even the majority of companies which have been certified compliant are concerned that they will be unable to maintain their compliance long-term.

Among the particularly thorny issues firms are grappling with are how to pull together all the data they hold on any given consumer—and how to modify or remove that data following a customer request under the GDPR or similar legislation, such as California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

A variety of start-ups, however, are springing up to offer innovative solutions to ease the burden of complying with increasingly strict privacy legislation. The latest, Manetu, is set to roll out its Consumer Privacy Management (CPM) software in April. The software uses machine learning and correlation algorithms to pull together any personally identifiable information which businesses are holding onto—including some data which they may not even be aware of. Consumers can then access the system to manage the permissions they’ve granted for their data, including at a highly granular level.

At the core of Manetu’s approach is the notion that giving consumers greater control over their data—a pillar of legislation like the GDPR—is good both for customers and for businesses. As CEO Moiz Kohari explained, “Putting consumers in control isn’t just the right thing to do. Ultimately, it’s good business. Treat your customers well is an old mantra, and it’s still a great one. But in today’s world, we also need to treat their data right. Do that, and you’ll earn a bond of trust that will pay dividends for a long time.”

In addition to earning customers’ trust, a more consumer-centred method of managing data can help companies optimise time and resources—both while processing data and when proving compliance with GDPR or other privacy legislation. Automating consumer requests to access, modify or delete their data drastically reduces the costs companies are currently incurring by manually addressing these requests.

In a similar way to how blockchain technology makes markets more transparent by recording all transactions in a permanent ledger, Manetu’s platform combines automation with an immutable log of exactly what permissions consumers have granted and when, and how, they have changed those permissions.

This documentation can be invaluable to companies needing to demonstrate to regulators that they are compliant with privacy regulations like the GDPR. EU rules establish, among other things, a “right to be forgotten.” Manetu’s log allows firms to both comply with “forget me” requests and prove that they’ve done so—without retaining access to information that the consumer has asked them to forget. Firms will be able to point to a comprehensive register of all the permissions users had granted or withdrawn.

The twin blows against Google—the GDPR fine imposed by Swedish authorities and the fresh investigation by Irish privacy regulators—confirm that data privacy will be one of the biggest challenges facing firms operating in Europe for the foreseeable future. It will be increasingly imperative for companies to streamline their data management processes to enable them to have the level of oversight which both regulators and consumers now expect.

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