Sunday

17th Feb 2019

EU 'dual quality' food probe to visit Hungary

  • Scientist at the Joint Research Centre in Belgium (Photo: Peter Teffer)

EU researchers will visit supermarkets in Hungary next week to test a new methodology aimed at spotting any quality differences in the same food products offered for sale in richer and poorer member states.

The tests are part of the European Commission's response to the issue of 'dual food quality', which has been raised by leaders from several central and eastern European countries.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"Consumers in certain parts of Europe have the feeling that the composition, or certain quality-related aspects of food, that is offered on their market, is not the same as the food that is offered under the same brand in other member states," said Franz Ulberth, head of fraud, detection and prevention at the commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC).

The suspicion that consumer product companies are intentionally and consistently shipping inferior versions of their products to eastern member states is not proven - but is a stubborn issue that refuses to go away.

After political leaders managed to convince commission president Jean-Claude Juncker that the dual food quality issue was an EU issue, he tasked the JRC to develop a common methodology to investigate the matter – until then member states had conducted investigations with varying standards.

The JRC will "frame the dimension of the problem", Ulberth told journalists this week, when they visited the institute's location in Geel, some 70 kilometres northeast of Brussels.

"Does it occur? What is the magnitude of the differences if they occur? And what member states are concerned?"

"There is at least a perceived problem," Ulberth told EUobserver later.

"What we do not know, is whether such differences occur only between east and west – which would be of course difficult to explain – or whether such differences are quite normal and occur throughout the [European] Union."

"If this is something that is occurring throughout the Union, then of course we could talk to industry why does it happen," said Ulberth.

He noted that it could be the case that companies are adapting ingredients based on preferences of the local consumers.

Blueprint for sampling

The JRC published its rules for how national authorities should select and transport samples last April.

The trip to Hungary will be to put the JRC blueprint to the test, before EU-wide sampling begins. Such pre-tests were already done in Belgium and France.

"We are in the process of organising an EU-wide testing campaign, with the inclusion of as many member states as possible," Ulberth told journalists.

He noted it was important that samples come from all over the EU, which has 28 member states.

"We wish to avoid this confrontation east vs west," said Ulberth.

"Most of the results that we have on the table is mostly – not exclusively, but mostly – related to products sampled in eastern member states and as a comparison with countries like Austria, Germany, and Italy. But we also need to see if such differences occur from north to south."

He said the plan was also to compare different samples of the same products within a country, but that financing is an issue.

"You not only go once to a shop and buy an item, but you do that several times, choosing different geographical locations within the jurisdiction of the country, and possibly also sampling from different production [locations]," said Ulberth.

"Of course that would be the ideal case. Now comes the 'if': If you can afford to do so. Because that will explode costs."

"If you triple, quadruple or quintuple the number of samples, then by the same multiplier you increase costs," the civil servant noted.

"Of course if there is already a differentiation within a country, then to be honest we have another problem," he said.

The samples will be taken by member state authorities, but the analysis will be done by the JRC.

"We are a little bit behind our planned scheme, a little bit, that happens. But we hope to have at least by the end of the year a draft report ready," he added.

Magazine

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.

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.

Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table

EU probes into Hungary and Poland on rule of law and democracy are back on the agenda of EU affairs ministers - but with little guidance from the Romanian presidency, without a clear idea where the procedures are headed.

Calls for Tajani's resignation over Slovenia, Croatia row

The European Parliament's Italian president referred to Croatia and Slovenia as former Italian regions at the weekend, sparking outrage. Although Antonio Tajani apologised, somer former leaders and MEPs are now calling for his resignation.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Opinion

Italy will keep blinking in 2019

Italy's 'marriage of convenience' coalition government likes picking battles with Brussels. But with the economy now in recession, and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini needing to keep the business lobby on board, expect Rome to blink first.

Opinion

The test for Sweden's new government

While the formation of a new government ends Sweden's fourth-month paralysis, it doesn't resolve the challenge from radical-right populists in Sweden. A key question remains: will treating populists like pariahs undercut the appeal of their, often anti-rights, politics?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us