It’s not an east-west thing

European Union scientists have found no evidence of an east-west divide in the bloc’s food quality after eastern countries claimed their consumers were being short changed.

However, scientists from the Joint Research Centre (JRC) found, after comparing the ingredients of food products across the EU, up to one third of tested products carried similar brands but different composition, even if they did not follow a geographical pattern or reveal lower quality.

Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, who initiated the study, said he’s happy there’s no evidence of an east-west divide in the composition of branded food products. But, he is worried that the study uncovered up to one third of tested products having different compositions while being identically or similarly branded.

The talk of “food apartheid” or of being treated as “Europe’s garbage can” by manufacturers accused of cutting corners on ingredients has stopped. This should be the end of the matter.

Expect further testing in the following months, though – sensory testing by expert panels is mooted.

The JRC did note that drawing a full conclusion “by inference” that the findings are also valid for all branded and private label foods would be inappropriate. What’s more, a civil servant warned against launching any study.

The commission said 1,380 samples of 128 food products from 19 EU countries were studied, but conceded they were “not representative” of the vast diversity of such products.

Under EU directives, companies are free to change a product’s ingredients from one member state to another as long as they are clearly listed on the packaging.

The European Commission has now launched a new call for proposals with a total budget of €1.26 million to strengthen consumer organisations’ capacities to test products and identify potentially misleading practices. The deadline for applications is 6 November 2019.

The Member States that participated in the survey were: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and The Netherlands.

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