Eastern Europe Refuses Lower Quality Food
On Wednesday April 11, 2018, the European Commission released four press releases pertaining to the food standard discrepancies, known as “dual-food,” between Western and Eastern Europe.
The issue dates back to March 2017 when leaders of the Visegrad countries, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary, accused multinational food companies of “food racism”
Repeated and longstanding tests show that products sold in Eastern European countries differ from those sold in Western European countries. The products bear the same branding and packaging but are inferior in quality, containing different ingredients and different characteristics such as flavor and consistency.
These issues have surfaced in many forms such as less tuna in tuna patties, fewer meatballs in soups, more sweetener instead of sugar, and more preservatives and artificial flavors. For instance, when comparing processed food quality in Slovenia with processed food quality in Austria, it was found that Coca-Cola sold in Slovenia has more sugar and fructose-glucose syrup than Coca-Cola sold in Austria. Spar, a strawberry yogurt, in Slovenia versus in Austria, contains 40% less strawberries. Other accused companies include Pepsi, HiPP baby food, and Birds eye. The companies insist that they produce different products because local preferences differ by country.
Studies have not found health impacts associated with “dual food,” but they are exploring violations in consumer law. The European Commission met for the first time on the issue of “dual food” in September 2017. They issued a statement: “The commission notice acknowledges that producers have a right to differentiate their products, but warns that consumers must not be misled.” They also outlined guidelines on the application of EU food and consumer law.
The meeting on Wednesday addressed ongoing issues. They released a “New Deal for Consumers,” plans to boost trust in scientific studies on food safety, and a proposal on transparency and sustainability. The “New Deal” is aimed to address misleading consumer practices and will update the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. While recognizing the freedom to tailor products to communities, this makes it explicitly illegal to market different products as identical across countries. It also finalizes a common testing methodology that will coordinate testing of food products to seek uniformity across member states.
Vera Jourova, the senior justice official at the European Commision, notes the intent of the new proposals, stating “In a globalised world where the big companies have a huge advantage over individual consumers, we need to level the odds.”
This proposal lays the groundwork for increasing consumer transparency, but more importantly it advances necessary equity across the borders of EU member states. There is a growing feeling that Eastern European countries, the Visegrad Four along with Croatia and Bulgaria, are being left behind in their attempts to modernize and reach economic equality with rest of Europe. Simultaneously this potential progress against food discrepancies is a step toward amending Eastern European nation’s critique that they are treated as second class EU members.