Lithua­nia sets off alarm bells over qual­ity of in­ter­na­tional brands' foods

Baltic News Network - - News -

What Lithua­nia‘s State Food and Vet­eri­nary ser­vice (VMVT) an­nounced last Tues­day was big news in Lithua­nia, but not so of a dis­cov­ery to the ma­jor­ity of East­ern Euro­pean con­sumers – food of in­ter­na­tional brands sold in West­ern Europe and in East­ern Europe, and Lithua­nia, are not just the same. There is less choco­late in the Lithua­nian Milka bar than in that sold in Ger­many. The potato chips, Lays, rich in Ger­many with ched­dar, bar­be­cue, sour cream, onions and orig­i­nal flavours, in Lithua­nia, con­tain less all of that.

The bev­er­age Nestea, an ice-tea off the pro­duc­tion line of Nes­tle, sold in Lithua­nian gro­ceries con­tains more ad­di­tives than that ice-tea stocked on the shelves of a Dutch su­per­mar­ket. Mean­while, the Ac­tivia yo­gurts in Lithua­nia have fewer straw­ber­ries than their ana­logues in Ger­many. And the com­par­isons do not end up here.

As a mat­ter of fact, the VMVT in­sists, the ill prac­tice has been not only wide-spread and deep-rooted, but known to all. In ad­di­tion, the del­i­ca­cies in Lithua­nia are sold at a higher price than in West­ern Europe. «That the cof­fee in Ger­many smells bet­ter and the choco­late tastes there yum­mier sounded un­til now like un­sub­stan­ti­ated ru­mours, but now we’ve proven they were not base­less,» Bro­nius Markauskas, the Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture of the Repub­lic of Lithua­nia, main­tained.

For the test­ing, food prod­ucts were fetched from su­per­mar­kets in Ber­lin and Vil­nius. The food qual­ity watch­dog sam­pled 33 kinds of food prod­ucts and 23 of them dif­fered in their com­po­si­tion, taste, colour and con­sis­tency.

For ex­am­ple, Milka cook­ies sold in Ger­many con­tained 35 per cent of choco­late pieces and the same bis­cuits in Lithua­nia had only 32 per cent. Nutella hazel­nut spread con­tained 7.5 per cent and 6.6 per cent of skimmed milk pow­der, re­spec­tively. A sim­i­lar ruckus over the foods qual­ity has al­ready en­sued in 2011, but the ker­fuf­fle en­gulf­ing Slo­vakia, Hun­gary, Czech Repub­lic and some other East­ern Euro­pean na­tions largely cir­cum­vented Lithua­nia then. Grilled by the jour­nal­ists as to why the Lithua­nian food con­trol ser­vice, VMVT, had not test for­eign food prod­ucts ear­lier al­though ru­mours about their qual­ity were loud , Markauskas, the min­is­ter came up with a lame ex­pla­na­tion that the min­istry dealt with other kind of prob­lems.

He did not rule out that the VMVT will look into the qual­ity of non-food goods, hab­er­dash­ery or house­hold chem­i­cals, for ex­am­ple.

Asked at the press con­fer­ence whether the com­po­si­tion of for­eign wash­ing pow­ders sold in Lithua­nia is dif­fer­ent from what is sold in West­ern Europe, Markauskas was blunt: «We can­not rule it out. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion did not en­com­pass other com­modi­ties.»

Back in July, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker had raised the is­sue first while meet­ing Slo­vakian gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives and pledged to help stamp out the «to­tally un­ac­cept­able» sale of lower qual­ity food prod­ucts in the East­ern Euro­pean mar­kets.

«I don’t like the idea that there would be some kind of sec­ond class ci­ti­zens in Europe,» Juncker said af­ter talks in Brus­sels with Slo­vak Prime Min­is­ter Robert Fico then. A study car­ried out by the Slo­vak gov­ern­ment had found sig­nif­i­cant qual­ity dif­fer­ences in the same prod­ucts sold in Slo­vakia and Aus­tria.

Slo­vakia was pre­pared to hold a ma­jor sum­mit of mem­ber states and the food com­pa­nies to ad­dress the find­ings. Gov­ern­ment-backed stud­ies in Hun­gary, Slo­vakia and the Czech Repub­lic also have shown that many items sold with iden­ti­cal pack­ag­ing were of su­pe­rior qual­ity in other EU coun­tries. In his an­nual speech at the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in mid-Sep­tem­ber, Juncker con­demned the sit­u­a­tion where food pro­duc­ers de­liver food of lower qual­ity to some Euro­pean coun­tries than to the rest of the com­mu­nity and pledged to tackle the plight. Now it is Lithua­nia that is ring­ing the alarm bell, urg­ing the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, the gov­ern­ing body of the Euro­pean Union, to fi­nally clamp down on what seems to be ill prac­tice.

«Lithua­nia will seek that multi­na­tional com­pa­nies use the same recipes for food prod­ucts sold un­der the same brand through­out the Euro­pean Union af­ter a study has shown that the com­po­si­tion of some food prod­ucts avail­able in Ger­man stores dif­fers from those in Lithua­nian stores… It’s a pity that we, be­ing part of the EU for 12 years now, are faced with such a prob­lem,» Markauskas em­pha­sised. Ac­cord­ing to him, the com­po­si­tion of prod­ucts sold in Lithua­nia is of lower qual­ity be­cause pro­duc­ers want to make them cheaper.

Amid the scan­dal, some in Lithua­nia are call­ing on the na­tional Food and Vet­eri­nary Ser­vice to look into the pro­duc­tion of do­mes­tic food pro­duc­ers. There are ru­mours that the ex­port foods are richer in their in­gre­di­ents than those sold for lo­cal buy­ers. For­eign pro­duc­ers, how­ever, dis­miss the crit­i­cism, say­ing that prod­ucts sold in dif­fer­ent mar­kets dif­fer in taste, not in qual­ity. Nele Nor­mak, spokes­woman for cold Co­caCola Baltics, sub­sidiary of Coca-Cola that makes Nestea cold tea, said the com­pany changed prod­uct recipes to fit tastes of lo­cal pop­u­la­tions.

«Our Nestea cold teas are made by the same recipe in all coun­tries, with slight dif­fer­ences pos­si­ble for in­di­vid­ual in­gre­di­ents, which are used in light of the needs and likes of con­sumers in a spe­cific coun­try. For in­stance, Nestea teas in Lithua­nia and other Baltic states con­tains less added sugar, it is re­placed by nat­u­ral sweet­en­ers (ste­via), while in Ger­many we only use added sugar,» Nor­mak said in a com­ment. VMVT tests of iden­ti­cal prod­ucts sold in Lithua­nia and Ger­many showed that cold peach tea pro­duced in Ger­many con­tained sugar only, while the same tea in Lithua­nia con­tained sugar, fruc­tose and ste­viol gly­co­side.

In Lithua­nia, straw­berry con­tent in Ac­tivia straw­berry yo­gurt made by Danone was 8.2 per cent, as com­pared to 9 per cent in Ger­many, in ad­di­tion to dif­fer­ent colour and flavour.



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