MEPs: Dual-quality products in single EU Market ‘unacceptable’

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock/Nodd
Picture: iStock/Nodd
Selling dual-quality products in the single European market is unacceptable, according to an MEP who co-authored a report on the topic.

Ivan Štefanec, member of the European People's Party (EPP), said the report called on the EU to set rules on product quality and enforce them to ensure a single market for consumers.

Fellow party member Inese Vaidere demanded more name-and-shame tactics for companies that cheat on consumers.

Double standards for food in Eastern and Western European markets was debated at a European Parliament event last week organised by Latvian MEP Vaidere and Slovakian MEP Štefanec.

The Commission proposed a deal to strengthen EU consumer rights and enforcement last month which is to be discussed by the European Parliament and Council.

It also launched a Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality, operated by the JRC, in March this year in response to concerns about food quality and fraudulent practices.

A blueprint for Member States

Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth & Sport, responsible for the JRC, announced a harmonised methodology​ for comparing the quality related characteristics of foods.

The methodology will be a blueprint for national authorities in Member States, said Commissioner Navracsics at the event.

"Some Europeans perceive that they are being offered inferior products – that they are being treated differently. It is our job to provide evidence and answers, and to ensure that all citizens are in fact treated equally,” ​he said.

“The notion of food quality is complex. It is influenced by a wide range of factors such as safety, nutrition, authenticity, and origin…”

The topic of ‘dual quality of foodstuffs’ was raised in the Agriculture and Fisheries Council (AGRIFISH) meeting in March 2017 by the Slovak, Czech and Hungarian delegations. 

Differences in composition and sensory properties (taste and aroma) were observed for a number of products tested but legal requirements for food safety and product labelling were respected.

Recent analysis by Bulgarian authorities​ found there is evidence of discrepancies in the composition and quality of some products offered on the European and its domestic market.

JRC methodology plus FDE and AIM response

The Commission made €1m available to its Joint Research Centre (JRC) to develop the methodology.

It builds on general principles to ensure transparency, comparability, inclusiveness and fairness for all stakeholders and includes recommendations for the selection of products, sampling, testing (including sensorial aspects) and data interpretation.

The JRC methodology is aimed at assessing compositional and sensory characteristics of foods and will serve as the basis for a pan-European testing campaign. A final report is expected by December 2018.

It is part of measures by the European Commission to tackle perceived quality differences of products offered under the same brand and packaging in several EU Member States.

Studies in some EU Member States have indicated differences in the composition or characteristics of certain branded foods.

However, because they took different approaches to collecting samples, testing and interpreting  data, the results are hard to compare.

FoodDrinkEurope and AIM said the methodology is an important step towards objectively assessing facts and evidence behind allegations of "dual quality" of food in various parts of Europe.

The European food and drink industry organisation and the group representing European brands said as many Member States as possible should participate to get a geographically representative picture of the nature and extent of the issue.

They added this may also help to further clarify the concept of "significant difference".

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