EU’s hypocrisy has come to the fore once more, what with the recent outcry from a number of Central and East European countries against the double standards in many products, and not just food products, that are being sold at one quality in West Europe, while its lesser quality versions are being dumped onto “second-hand”, “New” Europe for the same price or even more:
“Bulgaria and Romania have joined an outcry against multinational food companies, accused of selling lower quality products in Eastern Europe compared to those offered in the Western supermarkets.”
In a nutshell, the same product, produced by the same company, advertised in the same way and supposedly being produced in the same manner with the same ingredients, has turned out to be quite different in, say, Germany, Austria and France on one side, and Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania on the other.
A large investigation spanning several countries has included dozens of products from 5 major groups, including foods and home items such as dish-washing and clothe-washing detergents, etc. The same product has been compared in the markets and shops at the two sides of the now supposedly removed Iron Curtain. The most prominent examples being chocolate, non-alcoholic beverages, meat, dairy products, fruit juices and children’s foods.
The comparative research has found out that identical products of the same brand have vast differences in their ingredients, their quality and even the terms of duration. As soon as they get labeled, the same product receives a different label, depending on their destination. The ministers of foods and agriculture of Romania, Bulgaria and a number of other East European countries are now planning to refer the matter to the EU commissioner for consumer rights. These governments have also called urgent meetings of their ministers to address the issue, so it’s not like this isn’t a biggie, and is just some sort of conspiracy theory being floated around the yellow press.
Central European governments have issued official protests, and are now calling for the EU to take action against these double standards:
Just a couple of examples. In Germany, a non-alcoholic beverage that contains sugar has been labeled accordingly, because it contains sugar. In Bulgaria, the very same product is made with fructose-glucose syrup instead. The “natural” juices in Germany contain 100% fruit, at this side of the divide, not so much. The same brand and same model of product has different contents. Some would say, “but it’s cheaper!” Well, guess what? It isn’t. Often, it’s even more expensive.
Children’s foods are another example of these discrepancies. A fruit mash contained 1.5% proteins per 100 g in Germany, and 1% per 100 g here. And this isn’t just about quality and ingredients, it’s about the prices too. The most striking discrepancy in the whole research came exactly from two types of children’s mashes, by the way. One was 90% more expensive than its West European counterpart (supposedly same ingredients and quality), the other by 107% (that one was established to be of lower quality). The same price gap is observed in the dairy products, between 20% and 70% more expensive in East Europe (supposedly lower living standard, so prices should be lower, not higher there, right?)
While these foods may not be harmful or poisonous (God forbid!), they’ve often been incorrectly labeled as identical everywhere, and these discrepancies are not just incidental, they’re endemic. So people have become very suspicious, and the question naturally arises, what gives!?
Mind you, even local products show such discrepancies, and these go way beyond the possible statistical error. The research included 6 types of local products, from hams to canned food to some sorts of sausages. There are uniform EU standards about these things, right? Or at least there are supposed to be. Well first, the experts investigated if we’re talking of the same type of meat. They established there were noticeable differences in the physical and chemical properties of the meat. They were examined for soy proteins, water concentration, proteins, fats, etc. Some sausages showed water contents that were by 3.2% and more higher than their German counterparts. We can’t be just talking of artificial pumping of water into the meat to make it heavier – not after the technological time for its maturing had passed.
Fat contents in the Bulgarian products was 1,2% lower on average. Salt, on the other hand, was way higher than in the EU product.
Noticeable differences were also observed in the same chocolate products (mostly in their outer looks), and also some sorts of cheese (including color, texture, etc).
The issue will be put for discussion at the upcoming meeting of the EU council of ministers on July 17/18. Officially, Slovakia will be the one to present the question, although it’ll be speaking on behalf of at least half a dozen countries. This is a major cause for concern, because it’s an issue that’s not just about the rules of the market, it’s also political. East Europe is feeling slighted, overlooked, bypassed, betrayed. It’s not helping the European cause, what with all the Euroskepticism that’s been on the rise, including in countries that have joined the union relatively recently (and where sentiments of regret for that decision have been rising lately).
In some countries like mine, there’s also been a wide-spread sentiment that joining the EU came at a huge cost: while we’re now being granted scraps in the form of EU funds, we’ve had to dismantle much of our agricultural, food and clothing industry in favor of our West European brethren, much of it supposedly privatized, then sold for coins like junk, never to be re-opened again. In its place, various imported goods have flooded our markets, of much lower quality (now proven), for higher prices, and not benefiting our economy or our labor market in any way whatsoever – save for lining the pockets of the big international trade chains who’ve pushed our local smaller producers into a corner, forcing them to sell their produce for a fraction of its real value, just barely allowing them to make ends meet.
This can’t continue much longer. The people are not that stupid. They’ve started to notice that they’re being played. And unless something is changed, sooner or later the critical point will come when they’ll have to say enough is enough. And then the EU would be in big trouble.