Contaminated products and false labeling fuel concerns over food in Czech supermarkets

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague

Recent scandals involving food products sold in Czech supermarkets are making some consumers in this country quite nervous. The growing food-related controversies may not be enough to change their mind about choosing price over quality.

Illustrative photo: Barbora Kmentová
After discovering horsemeat in imported products sold in Czech branches of Tesco, the British chain pulled the first Czech product off the shelves this week. Herkules salami was found to contain horsemeat, though this fact was not mentioned on the product’s label. Although horsemeat can be legally sold in the Czech Republic, this latest incident has brought the necessity of stricter food inspection to the forefront.

So far, though, authorities have come up with few answers to the problem, aside from setting up monitoring websites for consumers, and boosting the maximum penalties for retailers. Here is what Agriculture Minister Petr Bendl had to say:

“Protecting the consumer from falsified food products is just as big a priority as protecting them from unsafe food. Those who are worried should consider purchasing Czech products. Only with food produced in the Czech Republic are we able to determine precisely where it was made.”

Petr Bendl, photo: Filip Jandourek
The problem with low-quality or even contaminated food is driven by pricing. All the large supermarket chains in the Czech Republic are part of international conglomerates, which have a wide choice of suppliers from around Europe. Their main criteria is often the price, and suppliers may go to the extreme in order to get a lucrative deal.

Although recent food scandals might make it seem as if the quality of food in Czech supermarkets has gone down, this may not necessarily be the case. Matouš Blažek, who works for Spotřebitel Net – an association for the protection of consumer protection – says that although consumers may be worried about the quality of products, they are far more worried about how much they spend.

“In my opinion, the quality is still the same. On the one hand people are scared by these scandals, on the other hand there is an economic crisis going on, and people want cheap food, no matter the quality.”

Beside the horsemeat affair, which has been relatively low-key in this country, compared to the rest of Europe, an ongoing headache for food inspectors are imports from Poland. The Czech Republic annually imports around 10 billion crowns worth of food products from its north neighbor. And the amount of imports is growing every year, though the number of scandals linked to Polish products does as well.

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague
Last year, a number of serious problems were discovered with some of the Polish products sold in this country. Wafers containing traces of rat poison, rotten frozen fish, street salt in packages of table salt – just to name a few.

This week, Polish police announced that they have arrested the owner of a salami producing factory that may have used infected meat. Czech food inspectors have begun checking for any contaminated products from the factory in local stores. Despite the scandals, Czech consumers are not very likely to abandon their local supermarket for alternatives like Czech farmer shops or farmer markets, for fear of having to pay a higher price.