For years, representatives of the new Member States have been complaining that some of the products available in Eastern Europe contain lower-quality ingredients that those, which are sold under the same name in Western Europe. A comprehensive investigation by the Commission has now confirmed the existence of different recipes in the Member States, but no general discrimination of certain European countries.
In order to be able to compare the quality of branded food, Member States were asked to make available product information. 19 Member States followed this request – however, Austria did not. In the end, the investigation was based on 1,380 pieces of information on 128 products.
The results are revealing: only 33 % of the compared products contained the same ingredients in all compared Member States. The result was similar in case of further 9 %. However, with a majority of 58 %, individual countries did in fact show differences.
One must also take into consideration to which extent packaging differs to avoid the impression that it the same product: identical products were mainly wrapped or packed in identical or at least similar containers. In case of products, which had different ingredients, half also had different packaging. The other half had identical or at least similar packaging.
Among the compared products was the chocolate spread Nutella by Ferrero. The nutritional values were identical in all 19 countries, and, apart from one exception, the information on ingredients was also the same for all countries. The same applies to the Manner Neapolitaner Wafers, which were compared on the basis of samples obtained from eight countries.
Different recipes were apparent in particular in case of beverages, e.g. Fanta, Coca Cola or Heineken Lager Bier. For example, in some countries, Coca Cola uses syrup instead of sugar. With regard to fish fingers, the investigation also detected a different percentage of fish between the various samples.
Within the scope of the report, the manufacturers of the products, where differences had been established, were given the opportunity to comment. In doing so, they frequently referred to different consumer preferences, but also to different times of production, translation errors or a list of ingredients, which was wrong by mistake.
From a geographical point of view, the compared products did not reveal a pattern, according to which different products with deviating quality had been sold in certain Member States. Instead it was differed from product to product, whether and to what extent ingredients varied in individual Member States.
Correspondingly, Commissioner Tibor Navracsics comes to a mixed conclusion: it is positive that the suspicion of different standards in Western and Eastern Europe had not been confirmed. However, the fact that almost a third of the compared products is packaged identically, but contains different ingredients, is a worrying result. Based on this investigation, national authorities are able to examine the established differences as to whether in their countries misleading and thereby illegal practices are applied.
During the past months, dual foot quality had been preceded by numerous discussions on possible deviating qualities between Western and Eastern European countries. Already in his State of the Union Address 2017, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had emphasised that they must not be any second class consumers. The coming weeks and months will show whether the now presented results will indeed put an end to the suspicion of double food standards within the Union or in whether the EU institutions will continue the debate in the now beginning new legislative period.