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17th Nov 2018

EU to give research tips on dual food quality

  • Are the products the same across the EU? (Photo: Ricardo)

The European Commission is preparing a common method to see if food quality is lower in some member states, as alleged.

“We are working on a sound methodology to improve food product tests so that member states can discuss this issue on a sound and shared scientific basis that is the same for all,” commission spokesman Christian Wigand told EUobserver.

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He said the commission will, on Tuesday (25 July), start a “dialogue with producers and retailers to discuss concretely how to work together on this issue”.

Several leaders of central and eastern EU member states have alleged that there is “dual food quality”, with consumers in the relatively poorer countries of the bloc being sold inferior products.

On Thursday, Slovak prime minister Robert Fico will discuss the issue with EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

The meeting will follow a year-long diplomatic effort to raise the political profile of the issue.

It has been succesfully put on the political agenda by the so-called Visegrad Group: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.

The agriculture ministers of those four countries discussed the issue in Prague in April 2016, together with counterparts from Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia.

A month later, all EU agriculture ministers discussed the matter in Brussels, at the request of the Czechs.

Earlier this year, the issue was on the agenda of the EU summit, the highest diplomatic level in EU affairs.

However, while all these forums expressed concern that all EU citizens across the bloc should be sold the same quality food, robust scientific evidence that there is actually discrimination between EU countries has not yet been provided.

At the April 2016 meeting in Prague, the Polish minister for agriculture, Krzysztof Jurgiel, said that while Poland supported eliminating unfair market practices, there was no evidence in Poland that there was a problem.

While the evidence that has been presented so far gives an indication that there may be differences in quality in the same products, it does not necessarily prove that the differences are correlated with the country in which they are sold.

Some of the studies consisted of buying one item of a certain product in a western EU member state, and one item of that same product in an eastern EU member state.

That method does not guarantee that a comparison is made between two samples that are each representative of their own population.

By buying just a single sample instead of establishing the average quality of the same product in each country separately, the researchers have no way of knowing whether the differences are not the result of sheer chance.

EU commission spokesman Wigand said that the commission took the issue “very seriously” and that it was “gathering evidence from member states in order to understand which countries and which products are concerned”.

Opinion

EU needs a modern food policy

EU agricultural policy should help steer consumers toward healthier and more environmentally-friendly eating habits.

Focus

EU presidency strengthened Slovakia's government

Prime minister Robert Fico gained EU and domestic praise for his six month at EU helm, but the far right is still on the rise in a country where Europe is still not a top issue.

Analysis

Visegrad lobby makes food quality an EU issue

Fico convinced the EU commission chief to take action in the perceived problem of discriminatory food practices, even though the evidence for the phenomenon is anecdotal.

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