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News 02 Oct 17

Bulgaria Pushes EU Over Food 'Double Standards'

Bulgaria's Ombudsman and NGOs have petitioned the European Parliament, demanding urgent against companies that sell lower quality products under the same labels in different parts of Europe. 

Mariya Cheresheva

Bulgarian NGOs and the country's Ombudman petitioned the European Parliament on Monday over the issue of the EU's "double standards" in food, calling for the establishment of either a centralized European body or a network of national control bodies to monitor the quality of foods and beverages sold in the EU.

They believe the existence of lower food standards in eastern regions of Europe reflects a disloyal business practice on the part of companies that “misleads and discriminates” [against] consumers.

“The problem concerns not only the dignity of Bulgarians and Eastern Europeans, but also their budgets [because] lower quality does not necessarily mean a lower price,” Bulgaria’s Ombudsman, Maya Manolova, told journalists.

She noted a survey by her office in September, which found out that five food products and beverages of the same name, mostly targeting children, not only had lower quality ingredients in Bulgaria but also cost more in Sofia than in Berlin or Vienna.

Following a wave of complaints in the so-called Visegrad countries – Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – Bulgaria’s food safety agency in June analysed 31 foods and beverages made by the same international brands and sold in Bulgaria and other Western European countries.

It found differences in the ingredients in a variety of these products, including soft drinks and fruit juices, baby foods, dairy products, chocolate sweets, and others.

Romania has also joined other Eastern European member states in campaigning against this "double standards" in food and drink sold in the EU.

“We are facing the threat of 'two-standard Europe', added to the already existing 'two-speed Europe,'” the Bulgarian petition to the European Parliament says.

A number of NGOs and professional associations have signed it, including the Bulgarian Doctors’ Union, the National Children’s Networks, The National Union of Bakers and Confectioners, and others.

Manolova, who has sought the support of other national Ombudspersons in the EU for the petition, expressed optimism about the outcome of the complaints at an EU level, after the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, slammed double standards in food quality throughout the EU in his annual State of the Union address in September.

However, she said that if the EU does not take swift and effective measures to defend Eastern European customers from the problem, she would launch a European Citizens’ Initiative.

This device means at least one million EU citizens, from at least a quarter of the EU member states, calling directly on the European Commission to take legal action.

“The European Citizen’s Initiative is the strongest weapon of democracy, but let’s first try all other instruments,” Bulgaria’s Ombudsman said.

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