The high-level forum meeting, “Making the food supply chain work better”, took place on Tuesday 20 June and brought together representatives from the food industry, NGOs and consumer groups.
A statement released by the Commission said: “Evidence received by the Commission from 21 Member States does not, at this time, reveal serious market anomalies [such as] the existence of structurally different, lower quality or lower nutritional content products in European markets, particularly in Eastern European countries, which raised this potential issue.
Stakeholders at the meeting agreed to continue discussing the issue within the framework of the forum, as well as through the cooperation network of consumer protection authorities.
The issue has come to the fore in recent months, and Hungary recently notified the Commission of a draft law that would require manufacturers required to place ‘warning labels’ on substandard foods.
East, West and Problems Tests
Dirk Jacobs, deputy managing director and director of consumer information and nutrition at trade group FoodDrinkEurope (FDE), told stakeholders that different recipes do not necessarily mean double quality.
Igloo fish fingers sold in Slovakia have a lower fish content (58%) than the same branded product in Austria (65%), but products sold in the UK, the Netherlands and Portugal contain it also 58%. “The product is different but no evidence of an East-West divide”,he said during a presentation.
Another problem is inadequate testing methods used to compare products, Jacobs said, carried out in only a few member states and on a limited number of products.
The tests may not have been carried out on a similar basis, but by selecting different sub-brands, production dates or different stages of shelf life.
To illustrate the potential pitfalls, Jacobs gave the example of two Nestlé products sold in Hungary (Nescafé Classic 3 in 1) and Austria (Nescafé 3 in 1).
“The two products are not comparable because [they] are two different variants of the mark. As indicated on the Austrian packaging, there is an intentional presence of a thin layer of cream on top of the drink. This creamy recipe is also sold in Hungary as Nescafé Crema 3 in 1.”
The Hungarian product contains 9% coffee and sweeteners including sugar and glucose syrup, while the Austrian product contains 7.9% coffee, contains more additives and caramelized sugar.
The FDE also wants robust test protocols harmonized by the EU. The Commission has stated that its Joint Research Center will try to establish a common methodology in order to better take into account the comparative studies carried out by national authorities.
Reasons for rogue recipes
Makers may alter recipes based on region for a number of reasons, Jacob told stakeholders, such as adapting flavors to suit local culinary traditions or because of the perception of certain ingredients.
Local sourcing initiatives focused on food waste prevention or national rules (such as mandatory fortification) can also impact product composition, while
Manufacturers also need to consider affordability – products that aren’t affordable won’t make it to supermarket shelves, he said.
According to a 2016 Council ConclusionOn product improvement, manufacturers are allowed to vary the pace and scope of product reformulation.
“Cultural differences in food preferences and habits may partly determine the approach, rate of reduction in salt, saturated fats, added sugars, and end results. Each approach must take into account these cultural differences and eating habits.
“Local and traditional foods, including geographical indications, intrinsically linked to the culture and heritage of a country, could be given special attention, taking into account the national situation, for example their contribution to the overall dietary intake.”
“Food and brand manufacturers are ready to work with authorities to provide greater transparency by clarifying on a case-by-case basis why recipes are different, and to work with national consumer protection authorities to address consumer perceptions. concerned citizens.“, said FDE.
This could be done through open houses where manufacturers show their production plants to the general public, he suggested.
The next meeting of the forum should take place in October.