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News 28 Jul 17

Romania Joins Campaign Against 'Double Standards' in Food

Romania is joining a number of other Eastern European states who accuse big food retailers of using an EU loophole to sell inferior-quality products to their countries.

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Pressured by several Eastern European countries on double standards of global food chains, The European Commission announced it will come up with new guidelines to ensure tests follow the same criteria. Photo: Franco Follini/Flikr

Romania on Thursday joined several Eastern European countries in urging the European Union to address the "double standards" loophole used by global food chains to sell lower-quality products in Eastern Europe.

“We need to know which companies treat us like second-hand citizens,” Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose told the cabinet meeting on Thursday.

None of the companies concerned are currently legally liable for this practice, as such double standards are legal in the EU as long as the ingredients are safe and are listed on the labels.

But several Eastern European states, including Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, accuse global food chains of using this loophole to sell inferior products in their countries.

They want the European Commission to come up EU-wide solution that changes the bloc's consumer protection and food safety laws.

Big food companies have admitted that it is common to use different ingredients for same-name products in different countries – but insist their products vary to suit local tastes rather than to cut costs.

Romania's Agriculture Minister Petre Daea revealed a study on Wednesday, which showed that out of 29 food products sold in The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium "nine were different in Romania from the West".

The study conducted by a government health agency showed different calorie contents in some types of canned fish, liver pate and pork products.

Experts stress that none of the nine products were unfit for consumption, but say they highlight a lack of correlation between labels in Western and Eastern Europe.

"We will ask [the European Commission] to speed up regulatory proceedings and create instruments that can assess such double standards at any time, anywhere," Daea said.

Besides Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia have also announced tests to determine whether products sold on their markets differ from those sold in Western European countries.

Bulgaria, which launched a round of testing in May, said in late June that experts found food products sold by global food chains in the country contained different ingredients to identical-brand products sold in Austria and Germany. The government said it would press the European Union to address the issue.

Bulgarian Agriculture Minister Rumen Porozhanov said lab tests had found different ingredients in seven of 31 identical-brand food items sold in Bulgaria.

Experts also found that 16 of these products had been sold at higher prices in the European Union's poorest state, he said. "It definitely causes anxiety," he said. "The double standards are a fact".

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico - representing the Visegrad Four countries that also include the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland – was in Brussels on Thursday to speak to the head of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, about the “double standards”.

“It might seem ridiculous for some, but for the member states that have commissioned me to communicate in their name this might be a serious political problem,” he said on Thursday after meeting Juncker. He said that he appreciated the fact that Juncker acknowledged that the problem existed.

Juncker said after the meeting that he considered the double standards a problem. “I don’t like the idea that there might be a second kind of citizens in Europe and we are working on that,” he told journalists

However, coming up with new legislation to address the complaints of the EU's Eastern members might take time.

For the moment, the European Commission announced it will issue guidelines in September to improve food product tests, so that members state can discuss the issue on a “sound and scientific basis,” Commission spokesperson Christian Wigand said on Tuesday. 

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