Fayre's not fair for Eastern Europeans

Bratislava (AFP) - Grumbling that their western neighbours enjoy better quality fayre, from chocolate to ketchup, eastern Europeans stepped up their campaign Friday for better food standards.

Fayre's not fair for Eastern Europeans

Fayre's not fair for Eastern Europeans

"This state of affairs is unacceptable for citizens," said Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico at a Bratislava summit attended by Czech, Hungarian and Polish counterparts to lament the issue of dual food quality.

Outraged at detecting quality issues in products ranging from Coca Cola and fish fingers to Nutella chocolate spread, several eastern EU states had already slammed "food apartheid", prompting Brussels last month to promise a crackdown.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm and watchdog, has agreed to give member states one million euros ($1.1 million) to help improve tests for comparing products to detect quality differences.

The Commission became involved after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared that, by law, "there can be no second class consumers" in the EU and that "Slovaks do not deserve less fish in their fish fingers."

In February, Hungary's food safety authority had complained many food products sold with identical packaging and labeling were superior in neighbouring Austria. Nutella, for example, appeared "less creamy" than the Austrian version.

"I will not have a peaceful conscience until unfair practices are completely eliminated from the internal market of the EU," Fico told Friday's Summit for Equal Quality of Products For All.

"The confidence of consumers in the European Union and its institutions is at stake, so it is our duty to come up with solutions," Slovak Agriculture Minister Gabriela Matecna said.

Czech European consumer affairs commissioner, Vera Jourova, echoed those sentiments in highlighting the effect on consumer confidence in the EU single market.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said dual food quality was something that "turns some Europeans into second class citizens."

He said Prague wanted to amend an EU directive on unfair commercial practices, which currently "does not allow sufficient punishment for unfair practices."

Slovakia has completed two rounds of retail foodstuff testing.

Out of 33 products bought in Slovakia and Austria, 14 displayed significant differences in their ingredients, according to the country's State Veterinary and Food Administration.

"The results were even worse than in the first round," VFA head Jozef Bires said.

For instance, some frozen pizzas of the same brand were found to contain less topping, more salt and less protein, Matecna said last week.

Similar issues arose testing washing powders.

"The differences are quite high. According to the number of active substances, German washing powder is about 20 percent better than the Czech one," Jan Pivonka of the Prague University of Chemical Technology told journalists in July.