Several East-European countries have called on the EU to address the "double standards" used by food companies in selling different products under identical labels in the bloc's eastern and western regions. These countries include Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia:

Hungary and Slovakia will ask the European Commission in a joint motion to consider legal means to eliminate "double standards in quality" of food products sold by companies in Eastern Europe and in the west, Hungary's agriculture ministry said [..]

As far as I know, food industry is highly regulated in most if not all EU countries (clear list of ingredients, explicit list of food additives, calories per 100g/serving etc.).

Question: Why did this issue escalate to EU Commission level? Isn't food legislation supposed to deal with this kind of issues?

  • 2
    I once had a deodorant Fa bottle made in Germany by Schwartzkopf and Henkel, its smell was superb (never felt anything better). Then I bought the same Fa in Russia, its smell was awful and even the form of the bottle and plastic was cheaper (interestingly, the German one had the cap of the form of Nazi German uniform peaked cap while Russian had it just round)
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 11:07
  • 1
    What exactly is this double standard you talk about?
    – Joe W
    Commented Apr 3 at 0:56
  • Russians were discussing this issue in the late 90's and it's kind of surprising Eastern Europeans only got this memo around the middle of 2010s.
    – alamar
    Commented Apr 3 at 21:40
  • @Anixx What does that mean: (interestingly, the German one had the cap of the form of Nazi German uniform peaked cap while Russian had it just round)? Do you have a picture?
    – haxor789
    Commented Apr 5 at 11:12

4 Answers 4


Questions of uniformity of standards across the EU is an EU competence. It seems here the question is whether two similar but different products can be sold with the same packaging; it is implied that lower quality products are being sold in the East than in the West. For example, Can a meat pie maker sell pies in Poland and France, apparently with the same packaging, but using cheaper meat for the pies to be sold in Poland than for the pies to be sold in France. This wouldn't show on the ingredients list, which would only show "meat".

As this is a question of uniformity of standards, it is a matter that the Commission can consider. National food legislation must be consistent with EU law.


Because it is a political question? As I understand the news reports, some companies use different recipes under the same brand label in Eastern and Western Europe. Both recipes would have been legal in either place.

Now it could be that they're honestly trying to cater to national preferences. Where I come from a proper meatball also contains onions, breadcrumbs, and egg. Other people might consider the breadcrumbs inferior to real meat, but for me it is how Mum always did it.

Or they are doing it not because those East European consumers like the different recipes better, but because they're not knowing what they're missing and get fobbed off with inferior products. If that happens regularly, and if it is legal, then it might be time to change the law.

As the saying goes, "there should be a law against it."

  • It might be considered deceptive advertising if an Europe-wide or global brand contains different things in different markets.
  • It might be a violation of free trade rules if wholesalers cannot mix-and-match shipments. Do the producers actively prevent "Eastern" products from being sold in the rest of the EU?
  • At least for some products,I believe, it is amount of particular ingredient that is controlled in each country according to law. For example, Western country might say that a jam has to have at least 70% of strawberries to be called a jam, while Eastern European one might have it at let's say 40%.
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Jun 15, 2019 at 19:33
  • 1
    @Gnudiff, I thought EU regulations put an end to that kind of non-tariff trade impediment within the common market.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 4:36
  • not sure, I think I read something about it still going on last year.
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 6:23
  • You can't regulate everything. And food is generally cheaper in Eastern Europe than in the West. Something's gotta give. Commented Apr 5 at 6:41
  • @thegodsfromengineering, actually, the EU agreed to have free trade in goods and services, and that implies the regulations should be the same. And also that a wholesaler in Portugal should be able to sell their stock in Poland.
    – o.m.
    Commented Apr 5 at 14:13

Believe or not, the EU actually published a study on that a couple of year later.

Today, the Commission published the results of a pan-European testing campaign of food products showing that some products are identically or similarly branded while having a different composition.

9% of products presented as being the same across the EU had a different composition: they had an identical front-of-pack, but a different composition.

A further 22% of products presented in a similar way had a different composition: they had a similar front-of-pack, yet a different composition.


There is no consistent geographical pattern in the use of the same or similar packaging for products with different compositions. Moreover, the difference in the composition found in the products tested do not necessarily constitute a difference in product quality.

And they apparently did something about it nonetheless

Since the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has been addressing the issue of dual quality of products in his State of the Union Address in 2017, the European Commission has taken forward different initiatives by:

  • clarifying when dual quality of products is a misleading practice through legislation under the recently agreed New Deal for Consumers;
  • establishing a common methodology for the testing of food products;
  • issuing a set of guidelines to help national authorities apply EU consumer and food legislation;
  • dedicating over €4.5 million to solve this issue;
  • testing products across the EU with the same methodology to get a better understanding of dual quality of goods.

But to answer the actual question...

Why did this issue escalate to EU Commission level?

It's because the EU Parliament asked the Commision to look into it...

In 2013 the European Parliament asked the Commission to look into the matter, and in 2017 a group of MEPs issued a major interpellation asking the Commission to make proposals to amend EU legislation in connection with the 'dual quality' of products.


As far as I know, food industry is highly regulated in most if not all EU countries (clear list of ingredients, explicit list of food additives, calories per 100g/serving etc.).

From what I understand the problem isn't so much that the food is unsafe or that the ingredients, salt, sugar, calories, etc. would be incorrectly labeled, it's rather that that the marketing is misleading.

So if you'd buy, what looks like the same product, i.e. same name, same front side packaging, same presentation and so on, in two different countries you might actually end up with 2 different products. Because while the front page and advertisement might be identical, the list of ingredients might be different or differently ordered (usually the most used ingredients come first) or the calorie count might indicate it's a different product/composition.

Now there can be various reasons for why that is the case, from good faith localization, to lazyness to outright scams.

Like classic examples for localization might be that for example the Big Mac in India has obviously no cows involved. Or for export into Muslim majority countries companies would likely leave out the pork. Now in some cases it's pretty obvious that this makes it a different product, in other cases the product is named differently and in some cases it's subtle enough to call it the same but have it slightly adjusted to local taste.

So selling a product in localized versions doesn't have to be outright evil and malicious.

Another reason might be uniform marketing. Having to come up with hundreds of product names and ad campaigns is expensive. So probably companies rather have a short list of products and just one market wide ad campaign where localization happens in subtitles or dubbing rather than making a whole different version (unless the expected market revenue makes that profitable).

Another reason might be discrepancies in purchasing power in different countries, so if idk your fast food item costs the price of luxury dining, you're kinda in problem, because you're key demographic can't afford your products and the demographic that can, also has better options than what you're offering. So in order to appeal to the key demographic you'd need to cut the cost, i.e. by cutting corners in composition and advertisement.

Another point might also be the "snob factor". So while in Western Europe these products aren't really that special, in Eastern Europe they either weren't available at all, only through blackmarkets and more expensive or already as cheap knockoffs. So besides the content it might also serve as status symbol of "having made it", in terms of being able to afford the real deal and not the off brand version. Which would be understandably infuriating if you find out that it's still a repackaged off brand version.

Which is a fairly common marketing stunt where you give a celebrity a premium version of your product and let them tell in great detail how awesome it is, to then dumb the market with a stripped down economy version that looks similar enough to be confused for the thing, but with significantly lower price and specs.

Another version might be that companies started by making supplying a demand for a product with a more affordable version raised the prices with the standard of living and hide their still inferior and now overpriced products with "localization", like "that's what people there are used to and changing the formula would just upset them".

Yet another version might be that they use it as a lab, so if people are fine with the more cost efficient composition, one might reformulate it in Western Europe as well to increase profit margins.

So TL;DR it's likely not illegal because they aren't technically lying about their content, their just hiding it and they can probably hide behind localization whether that claim is legitimate or not.

Though the real reasons might be interesting to investigate. Edit: Also as your first article claims, this can go to the extend that countries even pay more in comparison to their neighbors yet receive less quality. So that might be the answer to why that has become a political issues.

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