EU should protect its brands and legislate to reinforce them, Italian MEP says

MEP Maullu: “The ‘Made in Italy’ is one of the most counterfeited labels in the world, and the loss is so big and expensive for our economy that we clearly need to intervene." [European Parliament]

This article is part of our special report The fine line between brands and health.

The EU should protect its brands as they have a great potential to make Europe competitive worldwide, right-wing MEP Stefano Maullu told EURACTIV.com in the context of the continuing ‘branding versus consumer welfare’ debate.

The Consumer Choice Center (CCC) NGO recently launched the Brands Matter Working Group, whose main objective is to oppose the spread of legislative measures against brands in Europe.

According to the initiative, brands help consumers make “informed choices” about the quality of the products they purchase and simultaneously, “create intangible value” for European businesses by generating product awareness and securing customer loyalty.

A growing number of legislative measures taken by EU governments, such as plain packaging on tobacco products or restrictions to the labelling or visibility of alcohol and food, have raised eyebrows in the industry.

“The EU has a great potential to be competitive worldwide since there are many European brands having a substantial market share. In order to be competitive, the EU needs to find legislative measures to reinforce this sector, aiming at defending identity, origins and production method,” Maullu told EURACTIV.com.

The initiative argues that by restricting the brands, policymakers are opening the door to black markets and counterfeit products.

The Italian politician, who is a member of the Group of the European People’s Party- EPP (Forza Italia), said that the amount of counterfeiting is huge.

Referring to studies, he noted that counterfeit Italian products alone could account for up to €25.5 billion. Particularly for the Italian food and drinks sector, he noted that the amount is at €11.9 billion.

“The ‘Made in Italy’ is one of the most counterfeited labels in the world, and the loss is so big and expensive for our economy that we clearly need to intervene,” Maullu emphasised.

The World Health Organisation recently told EURACTIV.com that plain packaging on tobacco products actually works and denied the argument that it could help black markets flourish. Instead, it said that illicit trade is linked to other factors such as border and customs controls.

But Maullu does not share this view and argues that this measure is not useful.

“The main example is what we did for the tobacco. On the one hand, tobacco consumption has not gone down and, on the other hand, tobacco companies have found new consumption channels to get even more profit, such as the e-cigarette,” the right-wing politician emphasised.

Regarding alcohol, a country that has imposed several restrictions is Ireland. One of the provisions of the legislation suggests that shops are not obliged to display alcohol and have to hide it from customers’ view.

A spokesperson for the Irish Department of health told EURACTIV that with this measure, access to alcohol products will be more controlled in premises to which it applies.

Maullu opposed the decision to “hide” the brand of alcohol, saying that we should not aim at going back to protectionism, which would be absolutely counterproductive for everyone.

“The consumer must be fully informed on what he chooses and what he buys,” he said.

The fine line between brands and health

For the World Health Organisation, plain packaging is considered an effective way to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products and increase the effectiveness of health warnings. But the industry disagrees and points to a fine line between over-regulation and the need to protect consumers.

He continued saying that consumers have a remarkable perception of high-quality food and look not only at the single energy content of a product but also its nutritional value.

“This means, for instance, that if a consumer wants to enjoy some bread with Nutella, he/she should be allowed to do it. Scaremongering does not help the consciousness or the prevention of the food consumption.”

He also said that new legislative measures on sugary or salty foodstuffs restrict consumers’ freedom of choice.

“It is a problem for the European industry, especially since we are trying not to demonise fat anymore, and we are analysing into detail the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat. We risk having a prohibition of some real products, while the solution would be to provide more transparency and information to the consumers in order to spread out more consciousness on food quality.”

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