PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic will put more pressure on the European Union to police food standards after new tests found wide differences in the quality of ingredients that multinational food companies use in products sold to Czechs and to their western neighbours.
Agriculture Minister Marian Jurecka said on Tuesday tests carried out by his ministry and the University of Chemistry and Technology showed products in Czech supermarkets often had less of the main ingredients than the version sold in Germany, such as frozen fish sticks with less fish.
“Double standards” in food has become a hot-button issue for the EU’s eastern members. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland see it as an example of their second-class status compared with the bloc’s western members.
They are all pushing the EU executive to prevent companies from using inferior ingredients in products sold in their markets. Bulgaria has also complained.
Jurecka, who told Reuters in February that Czechs were tired of being Europe’s “garbage can”, said at a news conference he would present the test findings at an EU agriculture ministers’ meeting next week to prove “the problem exists”. The aim is to push forward legislation.
“Czech and other consumers in the European Union should be entitled to the same quality of products,” he said.
Companies have said they cater to local tastes by using various recipes. The practice is legal in the EU as long as ingredients are declared.
For example, Denmark’s Tulip Food Co sells canned “luncheon meat” in the Czech Republic that contains mechanically separated chicken meat along with pork. The German version doesn’t include the chicken, comparison tests showed.
A Tulip spokesman said the two products are similar in design but are different products with different recipes.
“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,” the spokesman said.
The ministry and the university overall tested 21 products, including chocolates, canned and frozen food, and also non-food items like laundry soap. In only three cases were the ingredients the same.
Consumer groups and media have conducted similar tests showing different ingredient lists that favour western markets.
Food is about 25 percent cheaper overall in the Czech Republic than in Germany, according to Eurostat. That partly reflects lower local costs and living standards. But many Czechs also cross the border regularly to shop in Germany or Austria.
Reporting by Robert Muller, editing by Larry King