The final part of the GUE/NGL ‘study days’ in Bratislava tackled the important issue of consumer protection and food safety standards in Slovakia and neighbouring Czech Republic.
Representatives from various Slovakian ministries in charge of agriculture and the economy relayed how their country has had to comply with EU regulations by compromising on or even lowering their food safety standards post accession.
Meanwhile, the delegation also heard from the Wine Growers’ Union of the Czech Republic that the likes of TTIP and CETA pose a big threat to the country’s wine heritage. However, an even bigger problem comes from the black market and third-country counterfeits which flood into and across the EU due to a lack of border checks and strict control.
Commenting on the various testimonies, Czech MEP Kateřina Konečná, who is also a coordinator on the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety at the European Parliament, expressed her worry for the falling standards not just in her home country but in member states across central and eastern Europe:
“We already have a big problem with the quality of food in this part of the EU because the standards in western Europe are higher than ours. We often see companies selling us inferior products in eastern and central Europe because they think we are poorer with lower living standards.”
“But in the European Union, there should be a single standard across the board for meat, milk and children’s food – not one for Austria and another for the Czech Republic!”
“Furthermore, member states in eastern and central Europe will be hit very hard by TTIP and CETA so we need to protect our market and standards even more. We need serious discussions on this issue in Brussels and this ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement)/ICS (Investment Court System) will not help,” surmised Konečná.
For Irish MEP Martina Anderson, it was what Slovakia had to comply with that she found most troubling:
“I was struck by the higher standards of food regulation before they joined the EU – and they’ve now harmonised ‘down’. My concern is therefore that with multinationals and CETA that the regulatory conformity that is being talked about would result again in the lowering of standards.”
“So, on the one hand, you would have a commissioner driving forward on regulations on food safety whilst on the other, you have trade deals taking place and the consequences could be the potential lowering of food safety and food standards for people – chemicals, GMOs etc.”
“Once again, we could potentially have a situation of being presented with horse meat instead of beef,” reasoned Anderson.
Greek MEP Kostadinka Kuneva was equally struck by the problems facing Czech wine producers near the border with Slovakia:
“We can now better understand the urgent need to protect local wine producers in Moravia and it is so frustrating to learn that not only have they got to deal with climate change, they also face the twin-threats of counterfeit wines arriving from third countries outside of the EU as well as Commission policies that can somehow alter the way the wines and grapes are cultivated.”
“We must do more to support and protect this amazing and original product in the Czech Republic – not just its heritage but also the local environment”, added Kuneva.