Buyer Beware! | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 23.01.2005
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Buyer Beware!

The average German breakfast might consist of ham from the Black Forest, mozzarella cheese and salmon. But are the Germans certain where their groceries really come from?


Is that Parma ham really from Italy?

With the recent economic uncertainty, Germans are not exactly being free and easy with their wallets. They are saving wherever they can -- particularly on their grocery bill. Around 38 percent of all food stuffs are purchased at discount supermarkets. And why not? The selection is big and the price is right. Hardly anything is lacking what the average, and sometimes above average, consumer wants -- champagne, mozzarella cheese, balsamic vinegar and Black Forest ham.

In fact, you might think you are getting more than what you are paying for. But the head of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations, Edda Müller, has a different opinion.

"Labels like balsamic vinegar, cheese from raw milk or salmon caught in the wild don't always offer the consumer what they promise. Product names are often misleading and manufacturing information is frequently just an empty promise," said Müller.

You can't judge a salmon by its package

Eisfischer mit Fang

This fisher most definitely knows where his fish came from

The purported natural salmon was not always spawned in pristine rivers. Most raw milk cheese is no longer produced from milk that was brought to a maximum temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. Natural balsamic vinegar -- you can almost forget it. Even the most Italian-looking packaging cannot cover up the fact that only 15 percent of mozzarella cheese is made in the traditional manner.

The biggest problem is that most names are insufficiently trademarked or not at all. That is also true for producers who try to make a product stand out by saying it is made a certain way. For example, we do not necessarily have to believe the pastry maker who uses the phrase "own production," that he took the time to knead the cake dough himself. According to food industry laws, "production" means to prepare and process.

"Even decorating a frozen cake with whipped cream is considered an act of preparation and hence own production," said Müller.

Only made in the Black Forest

If you buy Black Forest ham, you cannot be 100 percent positive that the pig grew up in southwest Germany. Of course, Nuremberger gingerbread must be made in the traditional city, but the ingredients do not necessarily come from the region. This has to do with the EU seal "trademarked geographical information" which is found on the product. The product must only somehow be connected to the region. If the Danish farmer herds his sows to the Black Forest to be slaughtered, then it is a Black Forest ham.

Feta Käse im Schaufenster Griechenland

Feta cheese made by hand and sold in local shops in Greece

Such policies harm those manufacturers who truly make traditional products in the traditional way. Customers suffer as well because they purchase a product with a seal on it they assume to be accurate.

"That's the only way to retain your customers and expand your business," Müller explained. She would like Germany to urge the EU to create uniform and easily understood labels. Also, consumers should be better protected so they are not deceived. Most importantly, everyone should know where everything in the refrigerator and pantries comes from.

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