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G@ZIELT: Safe Shopping on the Internet

Consumers in Germany increasingly buy food and cosmetics on the Internet. The number of online purchases of consumer goods such as kitchen utensils, toys, clothing and various tobacco products is growing rapidly and steadily. Moreover, it becomes more and more popular to buy feed for pet animals and livestock via the Internet.

The German food control authorities are prepared for this trend. Since July 2013 the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has been hosting the Common Central Unit "Control of Food, Feed, Cosmetics, Consumer Goods and Tobacco Products Traded on the Internet", in short G@ZIELT. Conducted on behalf of the German Federal States (Länder) as a central body, the Common Central Unit is in a better position to face the internet trade, which transgresses Länder and national borders. Duplicate search work is avoided, resources are preserved and work processes can be organised efficiently. With G@ZIELT, the German food control authorities take the lead in the enforcement of consumer protection in the e-commerce of food.

In collaboration with four providers of quality seals, the BVL and the authorities of the Länder want to create a marketplace on the internet where product safety is on a similar level to that in the supermarket or in the bakery around the corner.

Online grocery shopping

For food products this marketplace is already emerging. E-retailers who offer food must register with the food control authority in their county or their city, and are then controlled in a risk-based manner in the same way as conventional retailers. The four existing seals that meet the quality criteria of the D21 initiative help the consumers to reliably identify reputable suppliers. Food businesses can purchase one of the following four seals only if they are registered and thus identify themselves to the consumer as being a store under official control.

No authority and no entrepreneur can guarantee one hundred percent safety. Nevertheless the BVL recommends to make sure when buying food that the provider exhibits one of the seals on his website.

Searches by the Common Central Unit

When carrying out research in the e-food sector, the Common Central Unit focuses on searching for

  1. risky food offered on the internet that can cause harm to the health of consumers or mislead them,
  2. unregistered food businesses.

The results of the searches are passed on to the competent authorities of the Länder, of other EU Member States or of third countries, so that they can take the necessary steps within their field of competence, for example, to delete the offer from the Internet or to enforce registration.

Not all food traders comply with the obligation to register. Consequently these companies are not known to the competent authorities and are thus not covered by risk-based food control (for more information on risk-based food control please see the Federal Control Plan).

In accordance with § 38a of the German Food and Feed Code (LFGB), the Federal Central Tax Office (BZSt) regularly submits automatically generated data on food companies on the Internet to the BVL. These data are forwarded to the Länder to check their registration. This way food companies which operate on the Internet and were not previously known to the competent authorities are tracked down and brought under the umbrella of official food control.

Online purchase of feed

The G@ZIELT-search for feed for pet animals and livestock offered on the Internet is to be established and extended in analogy to the online search for food, as feed suppliers (feed businesses) also need to obtain an authorisation by their competent authority. In addition, there are requirements regarding the composition and labelling of feed to improve feed safety and market transparency. These criteria also apply to online sales.

However, there has not been any cooperation with the seal providers in this area so far. Thus the feed companies under the umbrella of official control cannot yet be identified as such by the buyers. This step will depend on the success of the collaboration in the food sector.

Online shopping of cosmetics, consumer goods and tobacco products

For suppliers of cosmetics, consumer products such as kitchen utensils, toys and clothing as well as of various tobacco products, there is no legal obligation to obtain registration or authorisation. That means that in these areas, G@ZIELT can only search for products that do not meet legal requirements and are either harmful to consumers’ health or deceptive. Nevertheless, the BVL has the ambition to create concepts for a safe marketplace also in this field.

What experiences do food authorities have with online research?

As a precursor of G@ZIELT, the BVL ran the pilot project "Control of E-Commerce in Food" together with 10 Länders from January 2011 to June 2013. In this pilot project, the strategy which had been elaborated by the BVL was implemented, procedures were applied and optimized, the loopholes for online control were identified and legislative proposals were drafted. In addition, the cooperation with other agencies active in online research such as the Federal Criminal Police Office, the Länder Police Offices, the Customs Authority and the Central Authority for Medical Devices, as well as with government agencies in other EU Member States was established. During the two and a half years the pilot project was running, more than 3,000 online food establishments and 1,200 online offers of 450 suppliers were reported to the competent authorities.

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© 2018 Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety