Dual quality food could end by 2020

Products with the same label are different in Eastern and Western Europe

New European rules prohibiting dual quality food withing the European Union’s internal market could take effect as of January 2020.

The Czech Republic has long been complaining that food sold under the same brand name is lower quality in the versions sold in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) than in Western Europe. Analysis of specific food items and household products like detergents has supported this claim.

Manufacturers claim that different countries prefer different recipes, and the differences are not made to cheat consumers.

A proposal for a directive on unfair commercial practices was presented this week by the European Commission. It still needs to be discussed by the European Parliament and the relevant ministers of the EU member states. If passed, individual states then must transpose it into national legislation.

Czech Member of European Parliament (MEP) Michaela Šojdrová (KDU-ČSL) said she believes that the final position will be adopted before the European elections scheduled for the end of May 2019.

“The new rules could start to apply from January 2020,” MEP Šojdrová said. “You can say it is slow, but it is necessary that the legislation is of high quality and that it is enforceable," she added.

The preparation of the directive has already led some manufacturers to begin to stop making different quality products for different EU countries, Šojdrová added.

According to the European Commission's proposal, manufacturers in the future could face financial sanctions of up to 4 percent of the company's annual turnover.

Since December 2016, CEE countries have been working with the European Commission to deal with the case by modifying EU law. In September 2017, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a speech condemned the double-quality practice as unacceptable in the European Parliament.

“In a Union of equals, there can be no second-class consumers. I will not accept that in some parts of Europe, people are sold food of lower quality than in other countries, despite the packaging and branding being identical. Slovaks do not deserve less fish in their fish fingers. Hungarians less meat in their meals. Czechs less cacao in their chocolate. EU law outlaws such practices already. We must now equip national authorities with stronger powers to cut out any illegal practices wherever they exist,” Juncker said in his 2017 State of the Union address.

CEE politicians claim that while there are some existing laws, the problem is a transnational one and that is why stronger EU level regulation is needed.

The Czech state has conducted several food quality tests. The most recent test showed that out of the 21 tested children's food, pet food and chain store products sold in similar packaging in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, only seven were the same. Three products were slightly different, 11 were significantly different.

Previous tests found less active ingredients in detergent powder and less cheese on pizzas. Margarine was also found to have more filler in the Czech version. Packaged luncheon meat with the same label was found to be poultry in the Czech Republic but pork in Germany.

People who live near the Czech-German border say differences are clearly noticeable in many items such as canned tuna, which is solid in Germany and mushy in the Czech version, or sausages that have different amounts of meat and filler.

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