Eastern European countries Hungary and Slovakia were given a boost this week when the Czech Republic joined their critique of multinational food companies who they accuse of selling inferior quality products compared to richer European nations.
Led by Czech Agriculture Minister Marian Jurecka, the Czech Republic will lobby the European Union to prohibit the sale of inferior quality foods having the same brand names as higher quality products sold in western Europe.
Jurecka said he has ordered a food quality review in the Czech Republic which he will combine with similar data from other eastern European countries including Slovakia, in order to amend European Union rules on food quality.
Jurecka says food quality within the EU should be uniform, but with “some products, we are in fact Europe’s garbage can,” he said to Reuters.
Hungary’s farm minister, Sándor Fazekas, ordered this week a similar quality review of 100 food products by Hungarian food safety authority Nébih. The quality findings are expected mid-March.
The combined studies should shed more light on food quality discrepancies many in eastern Europe have long suspected, but were, until recently, unable to fully evaluate.
In Slovakia, food inspectors from the Agriculture Ministry and the State Veterinary and Food Administration tested 22 food products also sold in Austria between November and December 2016. Their findings, revealed on Feb. 14 by Agricultural Minister Gabriela Matečná, found significant differences in quality.
“Up to one half of the products contained differences that significantly impact their quality,” Matečná said, reported by the Slovak Spectator.
The study found products in Slovakia had in some cases higher concentrations of artificial sweeteners and preservatives, contained more fats and lower proportions of meat, and had overall a lower weight in grams.
That study followed a previous 2011 food report by the Slovak Association of Consumers which also highlighted significant differences in identically named products sold in supermarkets in eight different EU countries.
In Hungary, Fazekas’ call for a wider probe comes as the country’s food safety authority found 24 products had different tastes, smell, composition and even labeling when compared with western counterparts.
“Our primary aim is to change the EU legislation, so that if an item has the same producer, the same packaging with the same font, so it is the same item at first sight, then it has the same ingredients,” Jurecka told Reuters.
The University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague revealed in 2015 that food products including instant coffee, yoghurt, margarine and some processed meats were made with different ingredients compared to western examples.
The question of food quality in eastern Europe is not a new one despite consumers’ outrage only recently gaining traction in countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Two years ago the Hungarian government studied food quality differences. Its findings, similar to those published by Slovakian and Czech authorities, caused little stir. But now that other Visegrad Four countries are re-evaluating their food quality, there appears to be a concerted effort to lobby the EU for uniformity.
The question was discussed during the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting last May as well as a Visegrad Four summit last April, according to Hungarian news website hvg.hu.
EU laws allow for food quality differences in similarly named food products as long as their packaging identifies all ingredients.
And if food safety regulations are properly observed, European companies are free to sell food products in the EU with different ingredients.
The onus is on consumers to be aware of what they are buying to ensure they’re eating the best quality products bought from multinational companies determined to maximise profit.
Multinational food companies in Europe have said any differences in foods found across countries are due to food suppliers catering to local tastes and known recipes.
But the Czech Republic’s Jurecka rejects this explanation who said central and eastern European countries have deep historical links.
“I really don’t think that Czechs and Austrians have such different tastes,” Jurecka said. “When you look at our menu, thanks to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire we have really similar tastes.”