Dual quality of foodstuffs in the EU internal market

2 May 2017 584 Views

On 11 April, MEP Daciana Sarbu (RO) and MEP Pavel Poc (CZ) co-hosted an event in the EP (European Parliament) on so-called ‘Dual quality foodstuffs‘ which focused on different quality of foodstuffs with the same name and labelling, sold in different EU countries often from the same producer. MEPs addressed that the issue is clearly between Eastern and Western Europe which make EU citizens leaving in Eastern counties feel like 2nd category of consumers.

The outcome is:

  1. Dual quality of food was discussed for the first time in 2011 but no results. The issue was discussed again by the EU Council of Ministers in May 2016, following a note from the Czech Republic which pointed out that certain food products were being sold within the internal market under the same trademark but with ingredients of differing nature, quantity or proportion, depending on member state where they were marketed. A 2015 study by Prague’s University of Chemistry and Technology examined ingredients in brand-name products in German and Czech supermarkets and found some had markedly different ingredients. A 1-liter bottle of Sprite in German supermarkets was sweetened only with sugar, for example. The same bottle in Czech supermarkets was sweetened with fructose and glucose syrup, as well as artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame. The Czech Sprite was also slightly more expensive.
  1. On 6 March 2017 the EU Council Of Ministers discussed the issue again and in the conclusions by the President of the European Council the decision of the EC to address the issue of dual quality of foodstuffs in the internal market in the High Level Forum for a better functioning food supply chain was welcomed. During this meeting, Hungary and Slovakia presented the results of a series of tests carried out on cases of dual quality of foodstuffs and asked the EC to consider appropriate actions, including possible legislation at EU level. The EC is now considering if there are reasons to modify the current legal framework which will be forwarded to the EU Council of Ministers to examine any future proposals from the EC.
  1. A speaker from the Slovak Republic presented the study of 22 food products which has been included in the comparative file sold in Slovakia and Austria.  The findings of the Hungarian study are very similar. Compared food products included 6 dairy products, 5 meat products, 2 fish products, 2 chocolate products, 1 bakery product, 2 beverages, 1 coffee, 1 seasoning mixture, 1 seasoning and 1 tea. The choice was made in order to cover the widest range of different kinds of foodstuffs and to comply with the principle of objectivity (comparing identical products of the same brand and labelling). All the products were submitted to sensory tests where colour, consistency, smell, taste and overall appearance were evaluated. Labelling of the products, including list of ingredients, nutritional index, allergens were evaluated within the evaluation test. The results:
  • in 9 products no significant difference was found in monitored indicators
  • in 3 products small differences effecting quality in smaller extent
  • in 10 products significant differences considerably effecting quality: composition – materials with lower proportion of fat, substitution of animal fat by fat of plant origin, different meat content; differences in added artificial sweeteners (SK) instead of natural sweeteners (AT); substitution of fruit component by colouring and artificial fruit aroma; quality of packaging of the product; qualitative indicators of the material – size of leafs, weight of solid part; different taste and colour.

One example is Coca-Cola, which has significant differences in taste in the two countries. In Slovakia, the taste is mildly sweet while in Austria it’s sweet. There are also different indications on the labelling, with fructosan-glucosic syrup in Slovakia and sugar in Austria.

Another case, according to the study, is “iglo” fish fingers, where the content of the fish meat was 8.8% more in the Austrian than the Slovakian product. There are also differences in packaging with products such as earl grey black tea.

In Austria, tea bags are in aluminium sachets while in Slovakia they are in paper sachets. “Aluminium tea bags maintain the aroma and taste, while bigger pieces of tea leaf contribute to better quality of food,” the survey noted.

Emmental cheese in Slovakia does not have the characteristic structure or look the cheese is known for, which is light-yellow in colour and texture with bigger or smaller holes.

  1. The EC advised that the issue is recognised by the EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, and there is currently the ongoing debate within the EC to come out with solutions. The EC has requested member states to table their reports on the matter (16 have been already tabled) and there is also a big upcoming study from Romania, Croatia and the Czech Republic and the results are expected in June. The EC raised a question how to define ‘misleading information’.
  1. Current EU food legislation requires companies to fully label ingredients to inform consumers and it says that it cannot be misleading but it doesn’t require that brand-name products are tied to specific recipes. It has been stated that there is no other way to address the differences in product of the same brand without drafting new parts of EU food law. The others see it as a very lengthy process to improve the current situation and more speedy solutions are needed without opening the current EU food legislation.

Further information upon request. Contact Robert Delis.

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