Food Law News - EU - 2011

European Parliament News, 10 October 2011

QUALITY STANDARDS - Some products are more equal than others? MEPs debate food quality variations

Food quality may vary between supposedly identical products

Though a relatively unknown phenomenon in Western Europe, consumers in Central and Eastern Europe complain frequently of differences in food quality between supposedly identical products. Romanian MEP Elena Oana Antonescu has tabled a formal question to the Commission on this seeming double standard.

Recent tests carried out by the Slovak Association of Consumers on products from Coca-Cola, Nescafé and Milka revealed that the ingredients vary from country to country, with Milka being the only brand to taste exactly the same in all eight European countries where the test was conducted.

Members of Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety last week took a closer look at the issue, hearing that manufacturers indeed change the ingredients according to "their budget, tastes and traditions" in different countries. The committee heard for example about Nutella, whose French version is runnier than that marketed in Germany because French bread is softer than German bread.

Elena Oana Antonescu, who initially raised the subject with her question to the Commission, said consumers were aware of quality differences, citing requests from her own family and friends to buy “better things” in Brussels, and warned against creating 1st and 2nd class consumers.

Pavel Poc, an MEP from the Czech Republic, said he was asked about this issue every day. “What is the EU for if it can’t protect its consumers?” his constituents wanted to know.

Hungarian Member János Áder emphasized that some manufacturers actually admit to using cheaper ingredients for Eastern European markets: "It looks the same and is advertised as the same - but the quality isn't as good," he said.

According to a Commission spokesman, the EU cannot impose 'one-recipe-for-all,' but consumers should be informed of the composition of the food products they purchase. Currently, there is no legislation penalising manufacturers who use different recipes for different national markets.

For Antonescu, this allowed "discriminating behaviour", and she therefore urged the Commission to follow up on the issue, and "carry out further surveys and studies.

The study was carried out in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

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