TBILISI, DFWatch – Groups in Georgia are concerned that a number of legislative changes will worsen the situation in regards to food safety and consumer rights.

Seven non-governmental organizations working on these issues and two independent experts today released an letter with recommendations for how to improve the situation.

In May 2012, the Georgian government adopted changes to the Code on Food Safety, Veterinary and Plant Protection, and the Code on Security and Free Movement of Products. The basis for the amendments was to make Georgian legislation comply with EU standards, as the country is negotiating a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement.

“A detailed review of the legislation demonstrated that the new codes will not greatly improve food safety and consumer rights protection in Georgia,” the letter says, “moreover, in some cases, it can be argued that certain changes enacted in May 2012 will reverse some of the positive gains achieved through the consumer protection legislation adopted earlier and repealed by the new code.”

It is signed by Association Elkana, Association of Food Products’ Experts, Association for Protection of Farmers’ Rights, LTD Center Radiant, Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia, Eurasia Partnership Foundation, Union XXI Century, and the two consumer rights experts Ketevan Dadiani and Zurab Tskitishvili.

As reported by DF Watch, the problems with the new legislation, https://dfwatch.net/new-law-may-restrict-consumers-rights-in-georgia-77084 is first of all that it places the burden of proof on the consumer – if a purchased product is damaged, the consumers have to prove that their rights were violated.

Before the amendment, the burden of proof was on the vendor.

If the product is damaged, the consumer no longer has the opportunity to choose how to restore his or her rights, but the vendor is given this opportunity.

The consumer no longer has the right to complain against a manufacturer if the vendor cannot be contacted. https://dfwatch.net/who-is-protected-by-the-georgian-government-%E2%80%93-entrepreneur-or-the-consumer-16054

Terms of warranty issue are reduced in favor of the vendor and importantly, the consumer also lost the right to change or return undamaged product.

On the other hand, the Code on Food Safety, Veterinary and Plant Protection doesn’t define or specify quality and falsification of food, while the code regulates quality and falsification of plants and veterinary protection means.

“The provided food safety control mechanisms are likely to be ineffective. The introduction of an institute of private inspection, which itself is not a negative development, is troublesome without proper supervisory framework that will detail the forms, terms, and procedures of interaction between private inspection bodies and state agencies,” the experts write.

At the beginning, the Georgian government’s goal was to maximally transfer Georgian legislation to a more liberal system, where industry and industrials are less restricted and regulated. Along with the Labor Code amendments, food safety and consumer rights legislation was also amended. Bodies like state inspection services were abolished in order to avoid corruption, but in the food safety sphere it caused that food quality wasn’t properly checked, but now there are private companies which conduct monitoring of food safety.

But violations are found, the legislation doesn’t suggest the exact mechanisms for sanctions.

“The food safety control mechanisms are bound to be ineffective, in part, because levying fines for several important violations is postponed until 2015. In addition, it is unclear as to what criteria were used by the legislator when determining the amounts of fines applicable for various violations.”

In order to improve the current legislation, the groups calls on the government to revise the laws regulating food safety and consumer rights adopted in 2012, and while doing so, conduct broad consultations with representatives of civil society, businesses and experts within all relevant fields. They also ask the EU to pay particular attention to this field in Georgia, and for civil society organizations to participate in the process.