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The provisions of Directive 79/112/EEC on food labelling do not run counter to a national regulation prescribing the use of a specific language but permitting, as an alternative, the use of another tongue likely to be easily understood by consumers. Thus the European Court of Justice responded on July 14 to a request for a preliminary ruling regarding the interpretation of Article 14 of Directive 79/112. The question arose in the context of legal proceedings against a Mr Goerres, a German retailer from Aachen accused of having offered for sale a variety of food products not labelled not in German but only in French, Italian and English, in breach of German legislation on food labelling.

On January, 13 1995, Mr Goerres was found to be retailing the following products: Fanta orange, soda au jus d'orange (labelled in French), Corn flakes (in English), I Pelati Di San Marzano -Il Vero Gusto del Pomodoro (in Italian), Pasta sauce with olives and capers (in English). On July 6, the Director of the administrative constituency of Aachen fined Mr Goerres for breaching German provisions on food labelling (Verordnung ber die Kennzeichnung von Lebensmitteln), which stipulate that details such as the brand name, the manufacturer's name and address, the list of ingredients and the sell-by/use-by date, must be displayed prominently in German on the labelling in a legible and indelible fashion in such a way as to be clearly understood. This information can also be included in another easily understandable language provided this is not detrimental to consumer information. Mr Goerres appealed against the fine insisting the use of a specific language cannot be prescribed and that in accordance with Article 14 of the Community Directive, the determining factor is the understandable nature of the labelling. Moreover, in the case of well-known products, labelling in a foreign language cannot be deemed prejudicial to the imperative of consumer information. Mr Goerres added that notices had been posted in his shop setting out the relevant information in German.

Article 14 of Directive 79/112/EEC requires labelling in a language likely to be readily understood by purchasers, except where consumer information is guaranteed by other means. The provision is not an obstacle to information being set out in several languages. On January 27, 1997, EU Ministers adopted Directive 97/4, replacing a part of the Article 14 with a new Article 13a stipulating that food should be labelled in a language easily understood by consumers and allowing Member States to require that information carried on food labelling be expressed in one or several official EU languages. The Court sought inspiration for the current German case from its ruling of June 18, 1991 (Piageme I case) in which it indicated that Article 30 of the Treaty and Article 14 of the labelling Directive stand counter to national regulations requiring the exclusive use of a specific language for food labelling without scope for the use either of another language easily understood by consumers or information through other means. It concludes that Article 14 is not opposed to a national regulation prescribing the use of a specific language for labelling but allowing, as an alternative, the use of another languages comprehensible to purchasers.

As to the whether the posting of an additional notice (Zusatzschild) in a shop next to the product, setting out the information required in a readily understandable language, is sufficient to guarantee consumer information, the Court recalled that in its Piageme II ruling it concluded that consumer protection cannot be guaranteed by measures not included in product labelling such as information supplied at the point of sale or information campaigns. It therefore concluded that all compulsory information for which provision is made in Directive 79/112 must be included on the labelling in a language accessible to consumers in the State or region concerned, or through alternative means such as drawings, symbols or pictograms. An additional notice (Zusatzschild) is not sufficient to guarantee the information and protection of final consumers.
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Publication:European Report
Article Type:Article
Geographic Code:4EU
Date:Jul 23, 1998

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