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Getting into a jam, again, as MPs debate UK plans to change sugar content rules

November 1st, 2013

If you believed some press this week, Brussels bureaucrats have been busy destroying the great British breakfast by cutting the minimum sugar content in jam from 60% to 50%….. “EU threatens future of British jam”, “British jam is toast – EU sugar rule row”, “EU rules will ruin jam with our cream tea”.

Yet according to some newspapers at the end of March…. EU red tape had allegedly been strangling plucky British jam producers by… NOT allowing them to cut the sugar content in jam from 60% to 50%.

So were they right seven months ago, or are they right now?

Well, neither.

In fact EU law – not handed down from Brussels but agreed by the UK government with other Member States – always gave the UK flexibility to cut the minimum sugar content in jam to 50%.

Seven months ago, the government had not yet chosen to use that flexibility. Now, after small producers made a strong case, it has chosen to use it.

We published this earlier blog on 25 March after extensive media coverage blaming EU rules for the plight of British jam producer Clippy McKenna who couldn’t sell her produce as jam because it didn’t meet the 60% sugar content minimum.

We explained that the same EU rules allowed Member States exemptions to apply a lower sugar content threshold and that some countries had taken advantage of this long ago.

The UK authorities were about to launch a consultation on amending the national rules here, too.

This consultation has now taken place and the debate this week in the House of Commons which sparked the latest interest in jam making concerned the amendment to the rules put forward by Defra.

The MP who was referred to as blaming the EU for the situation has made clear that she was not doing so. The transcript of her remarks confirms that. Defra has also been perfectly clear about the situation.

So the whole gloopy jam of confusion was home made by the media.

It was not “new regulations from Brussels”, or “the UK falling into line with an EU directive which says jam must be at least 50 per cent sugar”, as some reported.

It is one thing for the EU to be accused of “ridiculous EU jam laws” but to be in the dock a few months later for “threatening the future of British jam” – because the UK government has decided to change the very same “jam laws” the media had previously so strongly objected to – is pretty good going.

Needless to say, on both occasions, facts were spread thin.

It is encouraging that the Sun, the Express and the Mirror have agreed to correct their stories – but that comes too late to prevent a lot of people getting the wrong end of the stick.

Jam is not at the top of the political agenda.

But the rush to condemn the EU for taking a position and then for not taking that very same position – over a situation which the UK government could change anyway – is perhaps indicative of just how skewed much UK media coverage of anything pertaining to the EU has become.

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Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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