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EU Offers Help to Tackle Food Inferiority in Central and Eastern Europe

Multinationals have “cheated and misled” the east for years, the European Commission says.

27 September 2017

The European Commission has published legal guidance and offered funding to countries to help them crack down on inferior food and consumer products in Central and Eastern Europe, the Guardian reports.

 

European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers, and Gender Equality Vera Jourova made the comments after an analysis of data collected from the EU showed that the practice might be breaking EU law.

 

“Presenting two different products in the same branded packaging is misleading and unfair to consumers,” she said.

 

Complaints that food sold in Central and Eastern Europe is inferior in quality to identically packaged food available in Western Europe are not new.

 

In May, the BBC reported that many Czechs have long been driving to Germany to buy food products that they believe to be better than the versions back home. Earlier this week the Guardian reported that baby food brand Hipp will relaunch a product in Croatia in response to local outrage about its ingredients, which contained a lower proportion of an omega-3 source and vegetables than versions sold in other countries that appeared to be identical.

 

In February, the Hungarian food safety authority, NEBIH, announced that a study of food products proved that Hungarian counterparts were inferior to those in Austria, although both had identical packaging.

 

In July, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico threatened to impose restrictions on food products if the EU failed to act.

 

Now Jourova, who is a Czech national, has said that companies have “cheated and misled” customers in the east for years.

 

The managing director of the deregulation group Consumer Choice Centre, Fred Roeder, has rejected such claims. He said that consumers are free to switch brands and that the decision made by the EU pandered to populism, reported the Guardian.

 

“[The differences are] driven by consumer preferences and choice,” he said.

 

The issue has become a politicized topic in some circles in Central and Eastern European countries.

 

Janos Lazar, the minister in charge of the Hungarian prime minister's office, called the issue a “scandal” back in February, and said it confirms allegations that companies sell “food industry rubbish” to Hungary, according to Hungary Today.

 

The Commission has pledged 1 million euros to its Joint Research Center “to develop a methodology to allow cross-border tests and comparisons,” the Guardian writes, and another million euros to member states to fund research and enforcement.

 

 

  • Jourova says this is an example of how cross-border solutions to national issues are possible with the negotiating clout of the European Union, writes the Guardian.

 

  • After complaints about the quality of food sold in Romania, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in 2011, EU parliamentarians found out that manufacturers adjust their recipes for Western European consumers, too. Nutella sold in France, for example, was said to be runnier than that sold in Germany so it would spread more easily on the softer bread preferred by the French.

 

  • Coca-Cola, the manufacturer of Sprite, said the Czech formula was similar to that used in the United States and Spain. Responding to a similar complaint about Nestea, the company said the Czech version contained 35 percent less sugar than the German one, Politico reported.

Compiled by Kate Syme-Lamont

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