Online grocer Amazon Fresh must better label the origin of fruit and vegetables; the Munich Regional Court has upheld a corresponding claim by foodwatch. The consumer organisation had sued Amazon because the internet company had listed up to 13 possible countries of origin for numerous products such as grapes, lettuce or tomatoes in its online shop "Amazon Fresh" - a clear violation of European law, as now confirmed by the court.
Food retailers are legally obliged to denote the exact country of origin for most fresh fruit and vegetables. This also applies to goods sold on the Internet, the Munich Regional Court confirmed. Foodwatch called on the German government to ensure more control over the online food retailers. The municipal structure of food monitoring was no longer appropriate in times of global flows of goods and an increase in Internet trade.
"Amazon probably thought they were above the law. The ruling now shows that legal labelling requirements apply not only to the supermarket around the corner, but also to big players from Silicon Valley," explained Luise Molling from foodwatch. "The ruling from Munich has a signal effect for the entire food trade on the Internet and must also have consequences for food monitoring. Because the Amazon Fresh case shows that the control of online shops does not work properly."
In March 2018, foodwatch had first warned Amazon about the unclear indication of origin of its online delivery service "Amazon Fresh" and then -after the company refused to change the labels- filed a lawsuit with the Munich Regional Court. In many cases, Amazon had given a large number of different countries of origin for fruit and vegetables: for grapes as many as 13 countries; from Brazil to South Africa, India and Italy. For red peppers, for example, Amazon Fresh named 5 countries of origin.
Since 2011, EU Regulation 543/2011 has made the origin labelling of many types of fruit and vegetables mandatory. If the products are offered on the Internet, this obligation to provide information also applies to the shop pages of the retailers. Amazon, on the other hand, argued with foodwatch that a clear indication of origin is "almost or completely impossible" in online trade. However, the court made it clear: "If compliance with EU regulations is not guaranteed for a particular business model, then this business model must be changed. For it is not the business model that determines the validity of Union rules, but the Union rules determine the admissibility of a business model."
Foodwatch called for online supermarkets to be systematically checked for compliance with labelling requirements and product safety. However, the offline organised control authorities in the municipalities had often not yet caught up with the online age and were overstretched by the inspection of large online shops. The Federal Government must therefore transfer responsibility for monitoring online food retailers from the Länder and local authorities to the federal government, for example the Federal Office for Food Safety (BVL), advised the consumer organisation.
In 2018, a foodwatch comparative test of the five major online food retailers Amazon Fresh, Rewe Online, Allyouneedfresh, Mytime and Bringmeister revealed gaps in product labelling and in the control of shops by the food authorities.
Indications of origin are important for many consumers when shopping for food. A representative survey conducted by the opinion research institute TNS Emnid on behalf of foodwatch, for example, showed that almost 90 percent of citizens want clear information on the origin of ingredients.