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Tag ‘food’

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

Friday, 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.

In a jam over non-existent EU rules

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Recent media coverage on reusing jars for homemade jams for sale at charity events certainly fired up the imagination of the headline writers: “EU elf ‘n safety tsars ban jam sales at fetes” and “anger spreads over EU fines threat for reusing old jam jars”, “EU fine for homemade jam makers”. This is all completely untrue. There are no EU laws, new or old, which ban re-using old jam jars for fetes. The EU also has no powers to fine people.

There is indeed a body of EU food safety and hygiene legislation – notably so that the UK and other countries can be confident that food imported from or bought elsewhere in the EU is safe and of high quality. But these rules apply only to business operators and not to those preparing food for charity events such as church fetes or school bazaars.

What is more, the rules do not anyway ban re-using clean jam jars:  the European  Commission is not aware of any risk from chemicals related to this re-use.

The Daily Telegraph to its credit reported this properly on 7 October, saying that the Church of England had issued guidance and quoting the UK Food Safety Authority explaining that the interpretation of the regulations was the responsibility of local authorities, who would decide what constituted a “food business” and adding that “an occasional event, like a fund-raiser… would probably not be considered to be a food business.”

The Express then span this into a ridiculous story about “meddling Brussels bureaucrats”. The Mail did at least mention that the FSA had said enforcement was down to individual local authorities…but left this until paragraph 7 of a story misleadingly headlined “Anger spreads over EU fines threat for reusing old jam jars.” The Telegraph then had another piece – at least it was an intentionally funny one – blaming EU Directives after all.

While BBC Radio 4 You and Yours covered the story sensibly, BBC Breakfast ran an item that assumed wrongly that the EU has banned jam jars.

None of the media who produced these seriously misleading stories contacted the European Commission first.

More misleading grist to the EU-bashing mill……

Street vendors face closure due to EC Food Hygiene Directive

Sunday, November 15th, 1992

Statement: Street vendors and cafes will be faced with closure due to an EC food hygiene directive.

Response: There is a general food hygiene directive under discussion in the Community at the moment. The proposal is written in general terms, broadly similar to provisions already in UK law. Detailed guidance on hygiene will be left to specific industry codes of practice which will be drawn up in consultation with producers, retailers and consumers.  Such codes will be voluntary.

EC in the UK

Check the EC Representation in the UK website

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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