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Czechs, tired of being 'Europe's garbage can', will push for better food

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic will push for the European Union to ban the sale of inferior food in eastern European under the same brand name as better food sold in the west, the country’s agriculture minister said.

The Czechs are joining Slovakia and Hungary, who also say multinational food companies sell worse food in the poorer and less competitive eastern market.

“With some products, we are in fact Europe’s garbage can,” said Agriculture Minister Marian Jurecka.

Czech consumer groups have long complained about lower-quality food sold by large companies. But they have lacked leverage, because such sales are legal in the EU as long as the food’s packaging identifies all its ingredients.

Jurecka said he had ordered a study of food quality, to be concluded by June. That data, along with data from Slovakia and other countries, will then be used for a push to change EU rules. Items besides food, like detergent, will be included.

“Our primary aim is to change the EU legislation, so that if an item has the same producer, the same packaging with the same font, so it is the same item at first sight, then it has the same ingredients,” he told Reuters.

He did not give any examples. A 2015 test led by the University of Chemistry and Technology said instant coffee, yoghurt, margarine and some processed meat sold in the Czech Republic were made with different ingredients.

Food is about 25 percent cheaper overall in the Czech Republic than in neighbouring Germany, according to Eurostat. That partly reflects lower local costs and living standards. But Czech shoppers often flock abroad for sales and to get higher quality items.

Jurecka said products should be consistent inside the EU’s single market.

“If there is the single market, then let’s have the same access to the same quality of products, if they look the same, for all customers,” he said.

Companies have said they cater to local tastes by using various recipes. Jurecka rejected that argument, pointing out that for centuries all the central European countries were part of the same empire.

“I really don’t think that Czechs and Austrians have such different tastes ,” he said. “When you look at our menu, thanks to the Austrian-Hungarian empire we have really similar tastes.”

Editing by Larry King