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