The European Commission has adopted a proposal to deregulate pack sizes for a whole range of consumer products, including pet food, ice cream, frozen food, low alcoholic drinks and soft drinks.

The existing rules date from the 1970s, when member states' rules on pack sizes constituted barriers to trade, and European Community rules were necessary to access markets. Except for a few sectors, the Commission proposes to abolish EU-wide and national regulation of size in the light of well established case law of the European Court of Justice. The deregulation will make it easier to cater for ever more divergent consumer needs.

"This proposal reflects the consensus arrived at after a wide consultation with national authorities, industry, users, consumers and other interested parties, based on an extended impact assessment. While there is no doubt deregulation will greatly facilitate the introduction of updated and new products, stakeholders nevertheless remain free to use European standardisation, if they feel this can be helpful," said Enterprise Commissioner Olli Rehn.

The Commission said it had taken into account the fact that EU consumer protection legislation is much more comprehensive than it was at the time of introduction of the sizes legislation. Notably the introduction of unit pricing allows consumers to compare the price per litre/kilogram of products offered in different sizes.

In four sectors (wine, spirits, soluble coffee and white sugar) the impact assessment found cost elements that justify maintaining those sizes that are most sold to consumers. The proposal is to let the exemption last for 20 years, the average lifetime of packaging machinery, after which these sectors should also be subject to full competition.

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