European justice commissioner vows to end dual food quality practice in Central Europe
European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vĕra Jourova, took her grievances to yesterday’s meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels, where she repeated comments made on the same issue back in March of this year.
“I am on the side of European consumers, who should not be treated as second class if they are from member states,” she said.
“I promise to give national consumer protection organisations further guidance and clearer interpretation of the dual quality food situation, which is an unfair commercial practice.
“There are three more studies underway. We will wait for results from the European Parliament, who have also launched their own study. We need to join forces to get rid of this practice.
“I will also continue dialogue with the producers of the products, where we see the clear breach of EU law and I will ask them to stop this practice and to increase the quality of the product where it is lower.“
Her comments come as a survey commissioned by the Czech Ministry of Agriculture found food sold in the same packaging and under the same name in different European countries varied in meat type and content.
Evaluated products sold in five countries found that one of them, Tulip Luncheon meat from Germany, is made from pork. However, the Czech version is made from poultry meat.
In addition, Iglo fish fingers, also from Germany, contained more fish meat compared to those purchased in the Czech Republic.
The survey, which looked at a selection of products sold in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Germany and Hungary, also found content differences in other foods including Nutella, Nesquik, Danone Activia yoghurt, and pizzas made under the Dr. Oetker Pizza Ristorante brand.
“Tests carried out by experts from the University of Chemical Technology in Prague showed that some of the foods of the same brand in their properties differ,” said Czech Agriculture Minister Marian Jurečka.
“I consider this unacceptable and discriminatory towards consumers. Now we have in hand more clear and verifiable evidence. "
Results of this latest analysis closely follow two similar dual food quality studies carried out in 2012 and 2015 by Member of the European Parliament, representing Czech Republic for the Social Democratic Party, Olga Sehnalová.
The 2015 study found that once again the Iglo-brand fish fingers made available in the Czech Republic contained 7% less fish content than identical products sold in Germany. The Czech fish fingers also cost twice as much.
The sugar-sweetened beverage Sprite was found to contain high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, and acesulfame in the Czech Republic with a higher price tag.
‘Europe's garbage can.’
In February this year, Jurečka believed that "with some products, we are in fact Europe's garbage can."
Despite the surveys’ findings Markéta Ježková, spokesperson for the Czech Ministry of Agriculture said that it did not necessarily mean that the food sold in the Czech Republic was of a lower quality.
“The different composition of products may be influenced by consumers' taste preferences of a particular region or availability of local raw materials,” she explained.
“Sometimes a different composition is shown in the data for food, although the product packaging or marketing is no different.”
In response to the findings, UK-based Nomad Foods, owners of the Iglo brand, told food news provider NPR that its fish fingers sold in Hungary and Slovakia "were essentially the same ones as we sell in the UK under the Birds Eye brand ... with the same fish content."
"Even though we might sell a product across Europe, we always adapt that product to reflect local taste and preference,"
Tulip Food company’s response also claimed its canned meat products were formulated to "take into account the different preferences regarding taste, market demands and prices.”