Juncker pledges to end ‘unacceptable’ food discrimination

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico after Thursday's meeting in Brussels. [European Commission]

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday (27 July) promised Slovakia and other Eastern European member states he would help stamp out the “totally unacceptable” sale of lower quality food products in their markets.

Eastern member countries have complained bitterly of “food apartheid” or being treated as “Europe’s garbage can” by manufacturers who they say cut corners on the ingredients used in a whole range of everyday goods.

Critics and the companies themselves say these claims are unfounded and that differences simply reflect different tastes, but Juncker insisted the problem was real and must be tackled.

“I don’t like the idea that there would be some kind of second class citizens in Europe,” Juncker said after talks in Brussels with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Slovak study fuels concerns about lower quality food in Eastern Europe

A new study carried out by the Slovak government has found significant quality differences in the same products sold in Slovakia and Austria.

“We will pursue our common intention to an end to this discriminative way of supplying food goods to the Slovakian people,” he said.

“This is totally unacceptable.”

Fico, who last week described the issue as an “international scandal”, said he welcomed Juncker’s commitment to solving the problem.

Eastern Europeans bite back over 'food apartheid'

It looks like Nutella, smells like Nutella and yet doesn’t quite taste like the famous Italian chocolate spread. Eastern European leaders are fuming after tests suggested that big Western brands use cheaper ingredients in food products sold in former communist countries.

“The most important fact for me is that the Commission and the president accept that the problem exists and that the president has pledged to devote attention to this issue,” Fico said.

“It might seem ridiculous to some people” but for Slovakia and its Visegrad Four partners – the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – it was “a serious political problem”, he said.

Slovakia was prepared to hold a major summit of member states and the food companies “so that we can go into this issue”, he added.

Government-backed studies in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic appear to show that many items sold with identical packaging were of superior quality in other EU countries.

Bulgaria said earlier this month that its research showed discrepancies in at least seven out of 31 products bought from the same chain stores in Germany and Austria.

Under EU directives, companies are free to change a product’s ingredients from one member state to another as long as they are clearly listed on the packaging.

Borissov accuses EU of ‘apartheid’ over lower quality food in Eastern Europe

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Saturday (27 May) called an extraordinary cabinet meeting over two issues, one of them being the practice of big companies to market the same brands of products with big differences in quality between Eastern and Western Europe.

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