European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has criticised the dual standards of food quality in his State of the Union speech, saying ‘there can be no second-class consumers’.
Speaking before the European Parliament, he was responding to concerns by consumers and political leaders in some Eastern European countries that food manufacturers use cheaper substitutes for the same-branded products in different countries.
EU studies have shown that there are products with a seemingly similar brand which are sold containing a different content of meat or fish, greater fat content or a different type of sweetener in some member states.
In his address, Juncker said: “In a union of equals, there can be no second-class consumers. I will not accept that in some parts of Europe consumers are sold food of lower quality than in other countries.
“Slovaks do not deserve less fish in their fish fingers, Hungarians less meat in their meals, Czechs less cacao in their chocolate.”
The European Commission said it is now working on a methodology to improve food product comparative tests so that EU states can discuss this issue on a ‘sound and shared scientific basis’. The Commission has made €1 million available to its Joint Research Centre for the methodology.
European food industry body FoodDrinkEurope said it welcomes the Commission’s commitment, but stressed that differences in the composition of products do not necessarily mean inferior quality.
A spokesperson said: “Companies consider all consumers equally important and are working hard every day to provide consistent and steady high quality products, taking into account taste preferences, the availability of and preference for locally-sourced ingredients, etc.
“In most cases, differences between recipes exist in different countries – and not specifically between eastern and western EU member states – to allow for these preferences.”
In July, German biscuit producer Bahlsen responded to pressure from Eastern European countries and unified its production standards across the continent. The maker of Choco Leibniz replaced palm oil with butter in its biscuits, as prescribed by the original German recipe.
A study by the Czech Agriculture Ministry earlier this year analysed 21 products sold in different countries under the same brand. Tests revealed that 13 of them were different. In addition, five products had a different volume in the same size pack.
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