Food quality in Western Europe can differ greatly to what Central and Eastern European shops stock on their shelves. S&D group MEP Daciana Sârbu spoke to EURACTIV Romania about the issue and promoting local produce.
Daciana Sârbu (S&D) represents the Social Democrat Party and is vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.
Regarding product quality, what is sold in Western Europe can differ greatly from what is stocked elsewhere. What is your take on this?
Together with my fellow ENVI vice-chair, Pavel Poc (Czech Republic, S&D), I have raised this issue with the European Commission, as it’s a problem that has been seen by a number of countries. There has to be a decision at governmental level to analyse and compare products. I’ve heard it from many people, ‘please can you bring me back a certain type of shampoo from Brussels’, but ‘we have it here too’, ‘yeah but it’s not the same’. Despite being sold in the same packaging. Manufacturers come up with a whole range of excuses, from the water being different to people’s tastes being different. There needs to be action at EU level, a type of quality control body, a kind of agency. As for Romania, we need a comparative study, akin to one already carried out the Czech Republic, so that we can set out a clear argument.
The Romanian authorities have indeed announced that they will carry out an analysis.
If it proves to be the same case then we must back ourselves in the Council and ask the Commission to take action. Yes, it’s a free market, but we cannot be in a situation where we in the East are sold lower quality products because we either have less consumer awareness or the prices are lower. In this context, this month we will organise, together with colleagues from other countries, a debate at the European Parliament on product quality and will invite Commission and national government representatives, as well as other MEPs, researchers and consumer associations.
Romania ranks second in Europe in terms of childhood obesity. What do you think are the causes?
First and foremost it is nutrition. Then it is lack of information. I think that mothers-to-be should be offered a minimum level of training on how to feed their children. Other countries offer this kind of course where mothers are taught how to provide their kids with healthy food. Another reason is bad eating habits. It is true that the economic factors cannot be ignored because, unfortunately, people choose the food they buy based on the cost, which often results in choosing lower quality. So I think it is a good time to encourage local producers because their products are fresher, often cheaper and are more natural.
We are not in the habit of going to the grocers or the market; we end up in the supermarket where everything is wrapped up. We do not know how to read labels, we choose things based on how they are packaged and then we live with the consequences.
On the other hand, obesity is a problem for all of Europe and not just for children, adults too. Then there are the diseases that obesity itself can cause.
Recently, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for mandatory limits on trans-fats. Now we are waiting for a response from the Commission and a proposal. Currently, the EU doesn’t have any limits but the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends limiting trans-fat consumption to just 1% of intake per day. We are taking our inspiration from Denmark, where there has been a limit of 2% on these fatty acids and oils since 2013.
What is important in these matters is to have figures. In this case, we even have model that is already reporting results. The Danes said changes were seen after just two years of imposing the limit. I am convinced that there is a link between cases of obesity and low consumption of these fatty acids.