Several food products, one administrative fine

administrative fine Food Information Regulation Nutrition declaration

Cumulation principle

In general, the "cumulation principle" applies with respect to administrative criminal law. If several administrative offences are committed, each individual violation is fined without there being an aggregated penalty. In such cases, however, this raises the question of whether several acts constitute separate administrative offences at all and consequently whether the penalties should be cumulated, or whether they should be regarded as a single administrative offence to be punished once only. According to the case-law of the Administrative Supreme Court, a repeated infringement of the law constitutes a single administrative offence if (i) the form in which the offence was committed is the same, (ii) the external circumstances surrounding the offence are similar, (iii) there is a recognisable temporal connection, and (iv) there is overall negligence on the part of the perpetrator. Whether or not this is the case must be examined in the specific situation, taking into account the statutory provisions.

In February 2020, the Administrative Supreme Court further clarified the legal situation in the area of food law (decision of 27 February 2020, Ra 2019/10/0155): The company affected by the proceedings had placed two similar dairy products on the market on the same day, "low-fat quark 2%" and "quark 20%". The administrative authority determined that the same violations of labelling law had been committed in the case of both products, that is the absence of a nutrition declaration and non-compliance with the minimum font size, among other things. Applying the principle of cumulation, the administrative authority imposed separate fines for the two products, and the Regional Administrative Court confirmed this because, in essence, they are different products.

The Administrative Supreme Court overturned the decision, declaring it unlawful. In the case in question – placing two different varieties of quark on the market on the same day – the Administrative Supreme Court was of the opinion that the four criteria mentioned above were fulfilled; despite it concerning different products, it ruled that it was one and the same administrative offence. The accused was therefore deemed to have committed only one administrative offence, meaning that he should be fined once only. The decision of the Administrative Court is important because it clarifies that infringements concerning different products – and, a fortiori, different batches of the same product – can also constitute a single offence.