Consumer organisations have been working for the interests of citizens since the 1960s.

Hand die een kwaliteitsster aanraakt ©

What influence do consumer organisations have in politics at the European level? Historians Liesbeth van de Grift, Koen van Zon, René Koekkoek and Annelien de Dijn talk about the history of consumer organisations in the podcast Blik achteruit (in Dutch)

Representative of the citizen

Van de Grift and Van Zon collaborate on the research project Consumers on the March: Civic Activism and Political Representation in Europe, 1960s to 1990s. This project is about the historical development of consumer activism and consumer representation within the European Community. As early as the 1960s, consumer organisations were claiming: 'we represent citizens, we know what is going on in their lives'. "Of course it is important to say right away that we do not assume that this was the case," Van de Grift explains. "What we are interested in is why at certain points in history consumer organisations manage to present themselves as representatives of that citizen."

From Nutri-Score to growth hormone boycott

Today, we can see the representation of consumer interests in, for example, the Nutri-Score that appears on food products in the supermarket. A product is given a score that indicates exactly how healthy a product is. "The definitions of what is considered healthy and what is not have been fought over for years at the European level, among others by consumer organisations," says Van Zon. But also in the past, there are examples of consumer representation. Think of the ban on the use of growth hormones in beef. "In the 1970s, concerns arose about the effects of those hormones on humans," Van Zon explains. "Consumer organisations started to boycott beef. In doing so, they put pressure on the entire European market."