EU study on food – goods are no worse in Eastern Europe

There is no East-West difference in branded foods. However, one third of all food in the EU has the same packaging but a different content. This is explained by the European Commission following a Europe-wide survey of food products.

For several years now there have been constant complaints from Eastern Europe about the alleged inferior quality of branded foods –  from fish fingers to sweets and lemonades, . Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport and responsible for the Joint Research Centre, confirms this. „There is a perception among European consumers that branded foods they buy differ from related products available elsewhere and – may – be worse“. The European Commission had therefore commissioned its scientific service to contribute to an objective assessment of how widespread such differences are in the single internal market. The results present a mixed picture. „Although it is to be welcomed that there is no evidence of any gap between East and West as regards the composition of branded foods, I am concerned that almost a third of the products examined displayed a different composition, but were marketed as identical or similar,“ said Navracsics. Almost 1,400 food products in 19 EU countries were analyzed. However, the sample selected is not representative of the wide variety of foods on the EU market.

The main results:

  • In most cases, the composition corresponded to the product presentation. In 23 percent of the products, both the front side of the packaging and the composition were identical. In 27 percent of the products, the different composition, depending on the specific EU country, was indicated by a different front side of the packaging.
  • 9 per cent of the products were sold as identical throughout the EU, but had different compositions: For these products, the front of the package looked the same, while the composition was not identical.
  • A further 22 per cent of the products had a similar presentation, but a different composition: For these products, the front of the package looked similar but the composition was not identical.
  • There is no uniform geographical pattern governing the use of the same or similar packaging for products of different composition. Moreover, differences in the composition of the products tested do not necessarily mean a difference in the product quality.

Background

Under EU legislation, the same marketing across Member States of goods which differ substantially in composition or characteristics without legitimate and objective reasons could be misleading for consumers and be considered unfair and unlawful.

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The study carried out by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre describes the market situation in the 19 participating Member States (in the survey period November to December 2018). The test series is the European Commission’s response to concerns about dual quality food products. Products were selected on the basis of proposals made by Member States following complaints received by consumer protection authorities and associations. The following Member States were involved in the survey: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain .

The EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, said: „There will not be two different standards in the single European market. The new rules, which criminalize double standards of quality and strengthen consumer protection authorities, provide us with the necessary tools to remedy this situation. European consumers will be able to have full confidence that the package contents of the product they buy correspond precisely to the information on the package“.