Czech Agriculture Minister Marian Jurecka on July 11 called on his EU counterparts to finally address the issue of inferior supermarket products being sold in ‘second league’ Central and Eastern Europe compared to what is distributed in Western Europe. “This shows the problem exists,” he told a news conference as he announced in-depth research results.
Jurecka, who has complained that Czechs are tired of being Europe’s “garbage can”, pointed to how, for instance, the investigative survey commissioned by his ministry had revealed that the German version of Persil contains 20% more active ingredient than the Czech one, while Iglo (“Birdseye” in the UK) fishfingers are 64%-meat in Germany but only 50%-meat in the Czech Republic.
Perceived double standards in food has become a bitter issue for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland who all see it as an example of their second-class status compared with the bloc's western members. Bulgaria is another country where the topic has raised a lot of concern. Although Eurostat says food is about 25% cheaper in the Czech Republic than in Germany, many Czechs regularly head over the border to shop in Germany or Austria. Persil is said to be both cheaper and better in Germany.
Tests conducted by University of Chemistry and Technology Prague (VSCHT) of 21 products sold in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic determined that only three were the same in all the countries, while five were “slightly” different and 13 were “different”. In five instances, the weight was different, although the packaging was the same. VSCHT said that the results caused some surprise and that the disparities were greater than those shown by a test carried out in 2015.
"Tests carried out by experts from the reputable VSCHT showed properties differ in some foods under the same brand. I consider this unacceptable and discriminatory towards consumers. I have already gone into this problem at a meeting of the Visegrad Four countries in the European Parliament under the Council of the EU’s Agriculture Ministers. And now we have in hand clearer and verifiable evidence,” Jurecka said in a press release.
Speaker of the Czech Parliament Jan Hamacek responded to the survey by telling Czech media that it is unacceptable for second-rate food to appear on the shelves of Czech stores and that the government would continue to put pressure on Brussels for more precise product labelling.
Companies challenged with results such as those shown by the survey generally respond that for each country they cater to local product composition preferences and price demands, as well as often using local suppliers. As long as the composition is declared, the practice is legal under EU law.
Another example looked at by VSCHT scientists was canned luncheon meat from Denmark's Tulip Food Co. The product it sells in the Czech Republic contains mechanically separated chicken meat along with pork, but the German version does not include the chicken, comparison testing showed.
Responding to the finding, a Tulip Food spokesman told Reuters on July 12: "The canned meat products from Tulip are popular around the world and come with a lot of different recipes - taking into account the different preferences regarding taste, market demands and prices."
Various consumer groups and media in the Czech Republic have previously conducted similar tests, concluding that the different ingredient formats favoured Western markets.