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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 marginally organized”.
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 world.

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 clients,”
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 of Monsanto.

Let me at the end give you some examples on how we in our organisation use the consumer right to act, to create influences.

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 market directly.

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.
Bengt Ingerstam