The portal lebensmittelklarheit.de aims to offer clarity to consumers confused by labelling or advertising, according to Consumer Minister Ilse Aigner.
The site went online on Wednesday, set up by the national network of consumer advice centres and financed by Aigner’s ministry.
But it crashed almost straight away, with 20,000 requests a second overwhelming the server, according to a spokeswoman for the consumer advice centre in Hesse.
Whether this was due to a targeted denial of service attack could not be immediately ascertained, but it seems less than likely that all those requests were genuine.
The site says it will give consumers the chance to register products which have disappointed or confused them – and will offer producers the chance to enter a dialogue with shoppers about the products.
But Aigner is now being attacked from both sides, with farmers and the food industry accusing her of pandering to unfounded fears, and the Greens saying she is leaving consumers rather than producers with all the responsibility to highlight problems.
Chairman of the parliamentary agriculture committee Michael Goldman of the Free Democrats, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that Aigner was doing nothing more than playing to the fears of consumers, while Matthias Horst, manager of the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries said it was a pillory.
Goldmann said it would be dangerous to name specific products, although he admitted that some signs on food products could be useful to correct misunderstandings, “But that is a job for lawmakers and does not belong in the hands of consumer councils,” he said.
Horst said what he called claims about named products, or producers, would not be acceptable. “That is a pillory on which products will be shown up which are perfectly legal,” he said. He would not rule out legal action from companies concerned.
Yet Bärbel Höhn, deputy head of the Green parliamentary party, said Aigner had shown little backbone in her dealings with the food industry, and repeated calls for a simple labelling system showing a product’s salt, sugar and fat content. This has so far been rejected.
Nicole Maisch, Green spokeswoman for consumer policy said it was a step in the right direction, but that Aigner needed to be more active. “Deceptive packaging or deliberate confusion of consumers must be banned,” she told the Frankfurter Rundschau.