‘Unfishy’ fish fingers: Brussels asked to explain ‘lower standards’

Poorer European Union states claim food makers are giving them a raw deal

Food fight: the Czech version of a well-known brand had less fish than its German counterpart. Photograph: iStock

Food fight: the Czech version of a well-known brand had less fish than its German counterpart. Photograph: iStock

 

From the fishiness of fish fingers and the meatiness of luncheon meat to the preciously guarded name of a Slovenian wine, central Europe is taking a food (and drink) fight to Brussels across a broad culinary front.

Armed with results from a new batch of tests on a range of popular products, the Czech Republic wants the European Union to explain why items sold in western Europe appear to be of a higher quality than identical brands found in supermarkets farther east.

The findings chime with those from similar tests this year in countries across central Europe, which the region’s politicians claim prove that food sales in the EU are riddled with double standards.

In the recent Czech study, scientists in Prague found that of 21 apparently identical products sold in Germany and the Czech Republic, from chocolate to tinned food to washing powder, only three contained exactly the same ingredients.

The Czech version of a well-known brand of fish fingers was found to have less fish than its German counterpart, and a popular luncheon meat sold in Czech shops contained pork and chicken, while the German product was poultry-free.

“We want not only Czech but also other consumers in the EU to have the same right to the same product quality,” agriculture minister Marian Jurecka told Czech Radio this week. “I believe that we can get the European Commission to start preparing the necessary legislation. Once that begins we are talking about a process that could take three or four years.”

Different ingredients

Big food companies have said it is common to use different ingredients for same-name products in different countries, and they are obliged by EU law only to ensure that all ingredients are listed on packaging. They also insist that their products may vary to suit local tastes rather than to cut costs.

In general, food is considerably cheaper in central and eastern Europe than in Germany and Austria, but the controversy has played into the hands of Eurosceptic politicians who claim that Brussels and big business are giving poorer countries a raw deal.

On Tuesday the prime minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, stood beside packages of coffee, fish fingers and washing detergent and threatened to restrict food imports from other EU states unless Brussels tackled the issue.

“We have to defend ourselves. We can’t accept this,” said Mr Fico, who was expected to discuss the matter with his Czech, Polish and Hungarian counterparts on Wednesday.

Slovenia, meanwhile, plans to take the European Commission to court for allowing Croatia to call some of its wines “Teran” – a name registered with the EU by Slovenian winemakers as a protected designation of origin.