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17th Nov 2018

EU sees 'more evidence' of dual food quality

  • Some consumers in the east of the EU complain that coffee tastes worse there than across the border, Jourova said. (Photo: European Commission)

EU commissioner for consumers Vera Jourova said on Tuesday (26 September) there was "more evidence" that the alleged practice of 'dual food quality' exists in Europe.

"We have heard many complaints of consumers noticing that the coffee, drinks, or fish fingers they buy in their local supermarket is of lower quality than in the supermarket across the border," said Jourova, showing a shift in the EU executive's view on the issue.

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  • 'I myself do not want to work on something which is anecdotal or not proven enough'. (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

On 27 July, EU commission officials told EUobserver that there was only "anecdotal evidence" that products with the same name in different countries have different ingredients, as proven by the labels on the packaging.

There was even less robust evidence of a systematic east-west divide, they said.

"We have more evidence now," Jourova said on Tuesday.

"This was also quite visible in the two agricultural councils," she said, referring to ministerial meetings between farming ministers.

"When we discussed it for the first time in spring, there were tests only from two member states. But then more of them were added. The ministers of agriculture dealt with the issue with more serious interest in the June meeting. So yes, we have more evidence."

"We see that it concerns tens of products, maybe hundreds of products," she added.

The commission has announced that it will help member states to establish the extent of the problem "so that we know the truth".

"Because I myself do not want to work on something which is anecdotal or not proven enough," said Jourova.

Iron Curtain

The Czech commissioner, who was born behind the Iron Curtain, began her press conference in Brussels on Tuesday with a personal story.

She recounted "sentimental memories of the year 1990", when, after the fall of the communist regime, she was first able to taste chocolate and coffee in Austria.

"It tasted different. Now we are far away from that moment. We still have these complaints from our consumers. I think that it is high time to put an end to this practice."

The issue takes place in a wider political context in which the commission is trying to make sure several eastern EU member states - which have separate disputes with the EU executive on migration and the rule of law - feel they are fully engaged in the European project.

The so-called Visegrad group - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia - as well as Croatia, has succeeded in making the dual food quality a key European issue, with commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker referring to it in his annual State of the Union.

Jourova, too, stressed that the commission takes the issue seriously.

"When I say I take this issue very seriously - I mean it," she said.

Methodology ready in 2018

On Tuesday, the commission published a document that member state governments can use to determine if certain practices are illegal under EU law - but the EU executive has not proposed any new legislation.

The commission also made available €1 million in funds for member states that want to investigate the issue, and another €1 million for its Joint Research Centre (JRC) to come up with a common methodology.

The deadline for member state investigations is 30 November 2017, and the JRC's methodology is expected to be finished by early 2018.

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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A majority of the parliament's food safety committee adopted a text that warned of an increased risk of "radioactive contaminated food" from Japan, but one MEP said the text was full of "alternative facts".

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Dual food quality: a recipe for east-west EU friction

The accusation by some eastern European leaders that food companies were shipping inferior products to the eastern part of the EU has put the European Commission in a bind - leading to a months-long struggle to find a response.

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