(CN) – Europe’s highest court dealt a blow to mom-and-pop organic food shops Thursday, finding they must have permits to sell their merchandise on the internet – or anywhere other than directly to customers in face-to-face transactions.
The European Court of Justice’s preliminary ruling stems from a German competition watchdog’s lawsuit against a small internet business selling fireplace and barbecue supplies. When the business began offering organic spice mixes, the watchdog cried foul – claiming the business needed the same permit other sellers of organic products are required to have so the products can be tracked by national authorities.
Small producers and sellers of organic products can apply for an exemption, but only if they’re selling their products directly to customers from the place where the product is made. The German court hearing the case asked the EU high court whether that exemption applied here, since the business sells its spices directly to customers via the internet.
In its 9-page preliminary ruling, the Luxembourg-based high court said the point of the organics permit is for authorities to be able to trace products and for consumers to feel confident that what they’re purchasing is completely organic. Since the business at issue has no way of knowing whether the products it sells on the internet will be resold, repackaged or relabeled by the purchaser, it can’t be considered a direct seller for the purpose of the exemption.
The court agreed with the European Commission’s arguments in the case that no internet or mail-order retailer can be exempted from the permit requirement, given the risks that intermediary buyers buying in bulk might break the products down into smaller units and contaminate them in the process.
It’s up to the German court to decide the case within the parameters of the preliminary ruling, the EU court said.