Trading online is a good endeavor
Global online trade needs global networking of surveillance
Nina Banspach Press office
Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL)
International conference of the BVL and the EU Commission on online food retailing
Online food suppliers promise consumers an uncomplicated shopping experience. But how can it be guaranteed that shopping on the Internet is just as safe as shopping around the corner? This question was addressed by around 250 participants at the international specialist conference "eCommerce of Food" in Berlin from June 24th to 26th, 2019, organized jointly by the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and the European Commission.
Online grocery retailing is a growth market. This offers opportunities for consumers, such as an almost limitless choice and shopping opportunities around the clock, but at the same time raises a number of new questions - for example the role of the large online marketplaces, which act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers. What responsibility does the operator of such a platform have when it comes to compliance with food law regulations?
Too little, says Federal Food Minister Julia Klöckner. In her greeting at the opening of the conference, she demanded: “In the future, platform operators should also actively contribute to ensuring that health-endangering products do not end up with buyers.” A corresponding legal basis is to be created for this.
More protection thanks to the new regulation
The national legislation is intended to supplement the new EU control regulation that will come into force on December 14, 2019. One of the aims of the regulation is to improve consumer protection when shopping over the Internet. "Safety, authenticity and transparency must also be guaranteed in online food trade," said EU Commissioner for Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis. “The new EU control regulation ensures this. Thanks to it, the monitoring authorities will in future be able to enforce consumer rights even better. "
For Petr Cejka from the Czech Food Control Authority, the control ordinance has advantages for the supervisory authorities. In future, they could order food online as anonymous buyers and have them examined as samples. The inspectors were also given the opportunity to have websites blocked in whole or in part in the event of serious violations of food law.
Geronimo Branescu from the Romanian EU Council Presidency underlined the great interest of the EU member states in working together on the further development and implementation of the instruments from the control regulation.
Matthias Wolfschmidt from the consumer organization foodwatch also found the Control Ordinance to be a good approach, but it is not yet sufficient. He called for a further strengthening of consumer rights as well as more transparency - especially with the publication of control results.
Global trade - global challenges
In addition to the legal framework, global trade requires a global network of surveillance authorities, as BVL President Dr. Helmut Tschiersky emphasized. While excellent information systems already existed within the EU, he sees a need to catch up outside of Europe: "In online trading, we have to further improve the exchange of information and cooperation with third countries in order to promote food safety worldwide." In this context, Andreas Keller from the US-American food company emphasized - and the FDA its willingness to cooperate across borders.
All participants at the conference agreed that there is a need for action, especially in the trade in supposed food supplements from third countries. Dealers located there often changed the name of their company or their product at short notice, so that it is often difficult for the European surveillance authorities to get hold of them.
A problem that global online marketplaces also have to face. Wolfgang Weber from eBay, for example, only sees the solution in a global approach. If a specific problem with a product is discovered in a country, e.g. B. the illegal use of the substance sibutramine in a slimming product, eBay is blocking the product not only in this country, but proactively worldwide.
Christian Wiegand from Amazon also regards feedback from buyers as an important tool. Amazon operates an intensive monitoring here so that one can intervene in the event of an accumulation of negative comments and, if necessary, block certain offers.
The trail of money
Buying online usually also means paying online. This also offers opportunities for the supervisory authorities, as Jean-Jérôme Jung from the French Ministry of Economics and Finance found. True to the motto “Follow the money”, you can follow the money to its new owner when the traditional traceability of goods reaches its limits. However, this requires close cooperation with the service providers for online payments, the so-called Payment Service Providers (PSP).
In practice, however, this often proves to be a difficult undertaking, as several conference participants confirmed. Dennis Raschke from the G @ ZIELT inspection body therefore pleaded for an adjustment to the legal basis. The previous European e-commerce directive is almost 20 years old, according to Raschke, and only applies to online platforms. Payment service providers should also be obliged to cooperate with the supervisory authorities in the future.
A look into the future
The smartphone is changing the world - including online grocery retailing. According to Claudia Studtmann from Facebook, 79% of 18- to 34-year-olds already use their smartphones to discover new foods and recipes on social media. This also offers opportunities for start-ups that could reach a large number of users with a relatively small budget.
But will online retailing completely replace stationary retail at some point? Tobias Pohl from Google denied this during the conference. In his opinion, there will still be supermarkets in ten years. And people will use their smartphones to find the best shop around the corner.
• Conference "eCommerce of Food": https://www.bvl.bund.de/eCommerce2019
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