|The SAFE Consortium First
International Congress on Food Safety i Budapest 11-14
juni 2006. Läs programmet
här. Läs sammanfattning
av Bengt Ingerstams föredrag här (pdf).
New trends in Consumer Movement
– from Protection to Involvement
By Bengt Ingerstam,
president of the Swedish Consumer Coalition, Sweden
I am really honoured to be here
and have the possibility to participate in this very
interesting Congress, with a number of important presentations.
I am also glad to be able to present some reflections
from the consumers point of view, which are seldom taken
into account in the massive communication of technical,
commercial and political messages.
Let me start with a historic flashback and then give
you a picture of the actual development.
The Consumer movement is a democratic movement and as
such a very young movement. The movement of human rights
are older, but still quite young.
“All of us are consumers”, former president
John F Kennedy first stated in 1962. We are nearly 6
billions users and consumers on the earth, but only
UN adopted in 1985 Guidelines for Consumer protection
and defined the 8 consumer rights.
Citizens have a multiple role, participating in production
of goods as manpower in factories and at the same time
being users and consumers. Consumers are a part of the
market, without consumption no production, but the market
actors still regard consumers as a passive part of the
market, their target, we who buy and pay.
Many of the consumer´s organizations around the
world are organized together in Consumers International,
that organize 234 national organisations in 113 countries.
The first phase of the development has been mostly characterised
as organisations for protecting and assisting individual
consumers against various threats and injustice from
commercial parents and with time starting consumers
magazines publishing tests. Consumers became in that
way subscribers to test magazines and having access
to legal assistance in case of need.
Some governments have discovered the need to protect
consumers, consequently developing laws for consumer
protections. The development of the European Community
has also included a quite strong action and also regulated
the “right to organize”. Only recently EU
has started to express words such as “consumers
participation”. It has been outspoken in the EU
that all directorates shall include and take notice
of consumers needs, demands and issues. It does not
progress rapidly and it is easy to understand, as there
is a very strong lobby from the commercial side to object
any movement of the balance or restriction in “the
power over consumers”. Recently all of us have
noted how strong the interests are from the GM industry
and particularly the interests to protect the US industry.
As a consequence food containing GMO shall be labelled,
a progress for the consumer lobby, but meat from animals
fed with GM-seed shall not be labelled. A compromise,
but an open door for GM producer to get rid of their
products that consumers reject almost totally around
The Consumers International, as the world organisation,
have been more and more involved in developing rules
and participating in negotiations of rules for trade
and standardisation, e g the work in CODEX Alimentarius
for all the regulations concerning the food market.
Now to the most important part of my speech I will dedicate
to the new winds blowing, the new trends and the stronger
movement toward a completely new view on the market.
I will start with the final conclusion: consumers are
the market! Without consumption there will be no commerce.
Long time we have heard business voices saying “the
consumers are the masters”, and they hoped that
we consumers would remain at this point, satisfied with
being important and staying calm. Once a business leader
expressed it saying: “The consumers are our best
notising only afterwards what he had expressed.
As consumers become more educated and the waves of democracy
become more recognised we will have more and more aware
consumers, questioning and objecting both old and new
technics and behaviours from business and governmental
bodies. We have recently seen new movements characterized
by more active consumers. Consumers question new technologies
as genetically modifying crops and animals, nanotechnology,
irradiation of foods.
Consumers focus on consequences of consumption, on health,
environment and global impact. Consumers demand safe
food, organically and locally produced and mistrust
large-scale industrialized production and global big
retail chains. Quite recently Wal-Mart decided to enter
the organic food sector, pressed by consumers and trying
to improve their image.
More active consumers take part in discussions, involve
themselves in decision making, act and demonstrate to
show their preferences, boycott and demand to be heard
by business and politicians.
Expected progress is locally organizing in smaller groups,
testing and comparing goods and prices. Exchange of
results and experiences can easily and cheaply be made
by Internet. Internet is as a new tool a dramatic and
revolutionary way for consumers and their organisations
to make their voice heard and to connect and mobilise
in quick and efficient actions.
I want to highlight two particular progresses in lawmaking.
One is the mandatory labelling rules, that make it easier
for consumer to choose. Labelling is a must for consumers
and a help for serious suppliers, an increase in fair
competition. But it has been a hard fight to get to
where we are today. A growing concern now is that big
chains and producers start their own systems for labelling,
particularly in the health field. This may cause future
problems and confusion.
Another important progress for consumers has been the
acceptance of the precautionary principle. It is accepted
but still not in use as it should have been.
From science strong voices are arguing for “scientific
evidence”, but we now are demanding as a complement
“historic evidence”. Take as an example
the radioactive water that was launched by business
too early. It was later withdrawn with the explanation
“we did not know at that time”.
The quick development in new technologies rise the question
and the need of evaluating future consequences in a
better way and time is a good help. But many companies
want their return of investments back as quick as possible
and therefore also use dirty and unfair methods to press
on the market products that are not well and sufficiently
long-term tested. I can not avoid mentioning the name
Let me at the end give you some examples on how we in
our organisation use the consumer right to act, to create
The programme goes under the name of “Eyes on
the Market” and comprise different levels of importance,
as the “Shame Pole” where we put companies
or actions that should be ashamed. We have the “Chicken
Race” page where we disclose how business tries
to cheat and fool us. One famous phenomenon in Sweden
is the “Thursday-price” 39:90 to help us
decide what to buy for the weekend. 39:90 is about 3:99
Than we have the toughest action, the boycott. Recently
we have had a great breakthrough on the sector using
industrial fat. They are drawing back the use of hardened
(hydrolysed) fats, fully hardened/hydrolysed or partially
hydrolysed fats with industrial transfats. First the
margarine industry took them away and now in these months
the biggest users have drawn back all the hardened fasts,
with or without transfats. This is a big success and
we do not need to wait for EU legislation to declare
the level of transfats. The EU can not interfere on
what business and consumers agree upon. This is the
new modern consumer movement. It may take time but it
is faster and more efficient than legislation. Now a
large part of the industry want a closer cooperation
with consumers, to quickly solve the problems on the
We are not working only “against” bad things
but also promoting healthy and environmentally good
solutions as “The Eco Logically Choise”.
We want to be in the lead of the progress and at the
end we do not want to spend our money, pensions and
savings on development we do not believe in, we are
at the end also those who have to take the consequences,
both with our health and environment and also financially
at the end. And we are many, we are all, we will have
a better say in years to come.
Thanks for your attention.