The presence of so-called dual quality food in European stores was confirmed this week, when the results of a European Commission study showed that the labelling on 31 percent of analysed products was either fully or partly misleading. What is more, it seems dual quality is not just a problem in Central and Eastern Europe, but across the whole union.
In recent years, representatives of many Central and Eastern European EU member states, including the Czech Republic, have been raising the issue of dual quality food, where products sold under the same label have different compositions depending on the country they come from.
Since 2017, the European Commission has been investigating the problem, devising common testing methodologies and regulation guidelines.
One of the steps taken was the ordering the Commission’s in-house knowledge and science service, the Joint Research Centre, to conduct a study which tested products from 19 member states in November and December 2018.
The results of the study were published this week, revealing that the dual quality of foodstuffs truly is an issue.
Analysing nearly 1,400 products, it showed that 9 percent differed in their composition, despite carrying the same label, while a further 22 percent had similar, though not identical, packaging.
The results of the test were welcomed by the Czech Ministry of Agriculture, whose spokesman, Vojtěch Bílý, says it is a validation of Czech efforts to highlight the issue.
“The tests of the commission confirmed that dual quality is a serious problem and the European Commission’s initial doubts about the prevalence of this problem were not valid. Dual quality is present in a large amount of tested products, as we said from the beginning.”
However, when it comes to where these lesser quality products are sold, no geographical patterns were identified. The lack of evidence suggests that dual food standards are not an “East vs West” problem, but one faced within the whole EU food market.
Tomáš Prouza, the head of the Czech Confederation of Commerce and Tourism, has been attending discussions with fellow retail representatives in Brussels this week. He said on Tuesday, that many of his colleagues from Western Europe have been surprised by the findings.
“I am at the meeting of EuroCommerce, which is the association of retailers all over Europe and we are just discussing the findings. One of the surprises for many of the Western European companies is that this is also an issue in Western Europe that countries like Italy, for example, are also often receiving lower quality foods.”
In response to the findings, the European Commission has decided to launch a call for proposals for consumer organisations. With a total budget of EUR 1.26 million to be split between applicants, it seeks to give such groups the opportunity to better test products and identify potentially misleading practices, as well as support these organisations’ inter-state cooperation.
Libor Dupal from the Association of Czech Consumers says that his NGO is yet to study the materials for the call more closely. However, he says that it could be considered and welcomed the idea of co-operating with non-profits from other member states.
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