Czech Ag Ministry seeks dual quality ban

An amendment to the Czech Food Act would be stricter than the current EU proposal

Foods that are sold under the same label in different European Union countries but differ in their composition will no longer be allowed in the Czech Republic, if a Czech Agriculture Ministry proposal becomes law.

The ministry is proposing an amendment to the Food Act that will make it possible for the Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority (SZPI) to impose a fine of up to Kč 50 million for violating the ban.

The Czech amendment is stricter than an EU proposal currently under consideration in Brussels.

“By banning dual quality in the upcoming amendment to the Czech Food Act, the ban will start to apply substantially earlier than within the two-year transposition deadline for a European directive,” Minister of Agriculture Miroslav Toman (ČSSD).

“The aim of our proposal is that foodstuffs that differ in their properties won’t be offered to consumers in the same packaging, labeling, color, graphics or with the same marketing,” he added.

The Agriculture Ministry acknowledged the final text of the draft European directive on dual quality food, voted by the European Parliament in mid-April. However, the ministry said that in practice the EU version would be very difficult to enforce.

The EU text makes it easy for manufacturers to claim that two similar products are different, and therefore not subject to dual quality rules, even if the difference is relatively small.

The Agriculture Ministry wants to set stricter conditions for dual quality so that it can’t be justified by reasons such as consumer preferences or availability of raw materials.

“The problem of dual quality food concerns mainly multinational companies. We cannot accept that there are, in fact, citizens of several categories. It is necessary to ensure fair treatment for consumers,” Toman said.

Member of European Parliament Olga Sehnalová (ČSSD) pointed out that the EU directive is weak and counterproductive.

"The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive passed by the European Parliament, which was intended to create a total double quality ban, is ultimately unusable due to the intransigence of some EU Member States and the intervention of the European Commission. It effectively leads to legalization of double quality,” Sehnalová said.

“As soon as I received it, I pointed out that it would be in the interest of Czech consumers to adopt labeling requirements at the national level, so that customers at first sight know and are able to avoid double quality products on our shelves,” she said.

“I am pleased that Minister Toman, who was also my ally at European level in the fight against dual quality, is not wasting time. I believe that the forthcoming [Czech] law will not succumb to the business lobby in the Czech Parliament as eventually happened in Brussels,” she added.

If the Council of the European Union approves the EU directive, Member States will have to incorporate it into national legislation. The proposed EU text is not just about food, but about goods in general.

However, if Czech Agriculture Ministry’s proposal is adopted, it will set a stricter standard. Dual quality will be monitored by the Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority (SZPI), which will be able to levy fines up to Kč 50 million.

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.

The Czech state over the past few years has conducted several food quality tests. One 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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