Distributors are also liable for the quality of their products

09 February 2011

Olga Lesniewska, Emilia Stepien

The court has confirmed liability of food distributors for products they market.

EU law explicitly regulates which ingredients butter must contain: between 80% and 90% milk fat, no more than 16% water and 2% dry non-fat milk-material. In Poland, there are many butter-like products sold as butter.

One of such products used to be sold by Masmal and it only contained 2% of butter. The product was named “Buttery from Warlubie” and had a packaging typically used for butter, which did not inform clearly that it was only a butter-like product. The Office of the Competition and Consumer Protection (OCCP) imposed a large fine of EUR 47,000 on Masmal for a breach of its obligation to provide consumers with proper, authentic and complete information. Masmal appealed claiming that the price of the butter-like product was several times lower than that of real butter, so there was no risk of confusing the butter-like product with real butter. The court rejected the appeal and stated that the price cannot be the only factor distinguishing a butter-like product from real butter in absence of any other information.

Based on the court judgment, the Trade Inspection (responsible for food safety and quality) imposed a EUR 5,000 fine on food wholesalers for putting the butter-like product on the market. The wholesalers appealed stating they were not responsible for the production process. The appeal was rejected because all entrepreneurs, at each stage of the production, processing and distribution, are liable for any food law violations. The court emphasised that any imitations of foodstuffs are highly harmful as they infringe the value protected by law, which is the consumer’s interest.