Visegrad countries make a fist against EU ‘double standards’

Leaders of four central European countries will meet next week to urge the EU to act against food companies which put inferior ingredients in branded products destined for sale in poorer member states.

The special summit will “call on the Commission to take legislative measures that would ban such practice … that humiliates people and creates two categories of people,” Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico told a news conference on Thursday.

Fico said leaders of the Visegrad Four countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – would discuss the issue in Warsaw.

Consumer groups and governments have complained that some foodmakers use cheaper ingredients in products for central and eastern Europe than in identically-branded goods to be sold in Germany and Austria.

The practice is currently allowed, as the European Union only requires that packaging contains a clear list of all ingredients.

Slovakia’s Agriculture Ministry last week presented results of laboratory tests showing half of 22 products bought in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, differed in taste, looks and composition from equivalents bought in two Austrian towns across the border.

Czech Agriculture Minister Marian Jurecka last week said people were tired of being “Europe’s garbage can” while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff called the double standards on quality “the biggest scandal of the recent past”.

Consumers in central and eastern Europe were quick to embrace western brands after the end of communism in 1989. Producers say the composition differences cater to local tastes.

Food remains generally cheaper on average in eastern Europe than in the west, but many shoppers travel west to buy higher quality products.