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Barmy EU colder fridges’ order will cost us £100m

December 12th, 2011
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Letter to the Editor of the Daily Express, sent on 12th December 2011

Dear Sirs,

Contrary to claims in your article, “Barmy EU ‘colder fridges’ order will cost us £100m”, 12 December 2011, there are no new EU regulations ordering supermarkets to turn down fridge temperatures. The facts are less chilling.

EU member states have asked the Commission to look into the fact that supermarkets’ own meat cutting plants are not covered by the same hygiene regulations as independent plants, even though they often process more meat.

So the Commission is carrying out a fact finding exercise, to make sure consumers are properly protected.

No changes have been proposed and none could enter into force without full scrutiny by MEPs and national ministers.

Yours faithfully 

Mark English
Head of Media
European Commission Representation in the UK

Barmy EU colder fridges' order will cost us £100m, 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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2 Responses to “Barmy EU colder fridges’ order will cost us £100m”

  1. pperrin says:

    I would like some more detail on the content of this letter:-
    1) Which member states asked the commission to look into supermarket meat cutting plants?
    2) What form did that request to the commission take
    3) What were the actual concerns raised – simply a lack of red-tape, or some health issues maybe?
    4) What form is the fact finding exercise taking?
    5) What brief/terms of reference does the fact finding exercise have?
    6) What is the ‘protection’ that you think consumers may not be receiving?
    7) Once the fact finding is complete, what would the process be to introduce new regulations (or change existing ones)?
    8) Are you aware of any safety issues in the UK regarding meat processed by supermarkets?

    9) What has been spent and what is expected to be spent on this exercise?

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    • uk.admin says:

      The issue here is that supermarkets are currently exempt from rules which apply to smaller competitors and some national authorities and stakeholders believe that to be an anomaly which should be addressed. The current exercise is to establish whether that is so and if it is, how to address it in a way that maximises consumer protection without disproportionate regulatory burdens.
       
       1) Which  Member  States asked the  Commission to look into supermarket meat cutting plants?
      In a statutory consultation in 2009 a majority of Member States –  the UK was not among them but has in general been a strong supporter of strong rules on meat hygiene – and a significant number of private companies and trade associations requested the Commission to look into whether the non-applicability of certain hygiene rules to large deboning and storage plants linked to supermarkets was appropriate.
       
      Their concerns were that the supermarkets’ exemption might either a) lead to health risks and/or b) constitute unfair competition vis-a-vis smaller meat processing companies which are subject to those hygiene rules, despite having a much lower throughput of meat than the supermarkets. This could also disadvantage smaller high street butcher’ shops who use those suppliers and attempt to compete with supermarkets.
       
      2) What form did that request to the Commission take
      Responses to the consultation described above, which was a mandatory consultation to review the operation of EU hygiene laws. Both those laws themselves and the need to undertake the consultation and review the legislation were agreed by all Member States including the UK
       
      3) What were the actual concerns raised – simply a lack of red-tape, or some health issues maybe?
      The health issues around this are extremely serious. There were, according to the Food Standards Agency, nearly one million cases of food poisoning in the UK in 2009 and 446 deaths. The estimated total cost of this including loss of earnings and NHS costs was £1.7 billion. The Agency estimates that a large proportion of these cases were linked to meat consumption .
       
      4) What form is the fact finding exercise taking?
      A questionnaire to Member States and stakeholders and a thorough economic impact assessment of all possible options .
       
      5) What brief/terms of reference does the fact finding exercise have?
      To provide evidence enabling the Commission to decide, based on a through analysis, whether it should propose changes to the current rules.
       
      6) What is the ‘protection’ that you think consumers may not be receiving?
      The whole point of the exercise is to find out whether the rules need to be changed, including for reasons of consumer safety though also potentially because of possible discriminatory economic effects.   
       
      7) Once the fact finding is complete, what would the process be to introduce new regulations (or change existing ones)?
      There is no assumption at this stage that changes are required. But if so, the Commisison would first undertake a further consultation with Member States and stakeholders based on draft proposals and then having taken into account responses submit those proposals to the European Parliament and to the Member States.  EU laws need to be agreed by both the European Parliament and a “qualified” (i.e very large) majority of Member State Ministers in the Council. Or they do not take effect.
       
      8)Are you aware of any safety issues in the UK regarding meat processed by supermarkets?
      In general terms it is abundantly clear that there have sometimes been issues regarding meat safety in supermarkets. For example, a Food Standards Agency investigation in 2010 found that 65% of supermarket chickens were contaminated by harmful bacteria. But there is no presumption that issues such as this are linked to the non-application to supermarkets of the rules on storage and processing which apply to non-retail businesses. The whole point of the current exercise is to establish whether the exemption of supermarkets from rules applying to smaller competitors is appropriate, or not. 
       
      9) What has been spent and what is expected to be spent on this exercise?
      There is no exact figure available but the vast majority of the limited cost would be in staff time.  It is a core function of the European Commission, like all national government bodies and all regulatory authorities, to keep rules continuously under review and to see whether they are working. In some cases this leads to modification, in some cases to reinforcement and in others to abolition – for example, the streamlining of hygiene regulations in 2004 allowed 152 previous pieces of piecemeal legislation to be repealed and replaced by three concise and simplified legislative acts.  Of course this process has costs, but the economic and human costs of leaving in place either unnecessary red tape or rules that are outdated or too weak and do not provide adequate protection are exponentially higher.

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