Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

Slovakia: EU action on dual food quality is 'first step'

  • The commission's document published on Tuesday suggested that it is not yet clear how big of a problem the dual food quality issue is. (Photo: Jorah Mormont)

The measures announced by the European Commission earlier this week to tackle the issue of dual food quality were "the first step to solve the problem", Slovak agriculture minister Gabriela Matecna told EUobserver.

On Tuesday (26 September), the commission published a nine-page document, guiding member states through EU legislation that is relevant to ensure companies offer products of the same quality across the EU.

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  • Gabriela Matecna, Slovak minister for agriculture (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The EU's executive did not propose new rules.

"The guidelines rely and refer to the current legislation. We hope that they will be sufficient and efficient," Matecna said on Wednesday in a short interview in the hallway of the European Parliament, through an interpreter.

"[Otherwise], we will have to find another action and measure," she added.

She could not say what type of legislation or new rules would be needed if Tuesday's guidelines were insufficient.

"It's difficult to say," said Matecna.

"But it is not the only important fact. It is also the pressure on the producers," she added.

"We want to send a message: we have one market, one single market, we have one class of consumers. Therefore, we want to have identical foodstuff on the market," she said.

Jourova

While it is not yet clear whether food companies are systematically shipping inferior versions of their products to the eastern members of the bloc, the EU commissioner for consumers, Vera Jourova, has seen enough evidence to take the matter seriously.

"We already see that this is a widespread issue, because we have at this moment tests from six member states," Jourova told EUobserver, after a meeting with Matecna.

"All of them are from central and east Europe," she added.

However, the commission's document, published on Tuesday, suggested that it is not yet clear how big a problem the dual food quality issue was.

"The Joint Research Centre is working on guidelines for a common testing methodology, as a step towards comparable and authoritative tests across the EU," the paper said, referring to the EU commission's research team.

"This is essential to assess the magnitude of the issue, and to provide the sound evidence basis required for action to be taken," it said.

The methodology they will develop is not expected to be finished before early 2018.

The message

Jourova also suggested that the measures, which are soft-touch in nature, are partly meant as a warning shot.

"The lower quality of products seems to be also abusing the fact that still the consumers in central and east Europe are kind of less demanding," she said.

"I would give the message: do not rely on it, because we want to have the consumers equally demanding everywhere in Europe."

Tuesday's paper also gave a definition of dual quality of certain products: "goods marketed on the single market under the same brand or trademark but with differences in content, composition or quality in individual EU member states".

It also specified that the free movement of goods "does not necessarily mean that every product must be identical in every corner of the single market".

"However, what can be a source of concern is when different compositions of identically branded goods are marketed in a way that has the potential to mislead the consumer," the commission paper said.

Also on Tuesday, the commission announced that it would free up €1 million to support member states that need financial help to carry out comparative studies on dual food quality.

Slovak minister Matecna told EUobserver that her country would "definitely" be one of those applying.

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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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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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The Joint Research Centre coordinates the EU-wide campaign to see if citizens in some member states receive inferior versions of products branded under the same name.

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