Sunday, April 17, 2011

Food labelling is EU competence

A casual look at my erstwhile blogging home showed me that the Boss had picked up those idiotic comments about the Cleggeron Coalition doing away with certain food labelling regulations, in particular the one to do with "best before".

We have a thoroughly ignorant story by Patrick Hennessy, which fails to mention a crucial fact: food labelling is EU competence and the "best before" labels cannot be dropped or seriously altered by HMG or Parliament or, even, that mighty organization the Food Standards Agency, which is not being abolished. (Though, to be fair, food labelling rules will now be implemented by DEFRA rather than the FSA.)

The legislation for food labelling, however, comes from that fountain of modern British legislation, the European Union, specifically,

1. In accordance with Articles 4 to 17 and subject to the exceptions contained therein, indication of the following particulars alone shall be compulsory on the labelling of foodstuffs: ... (5) the date of minimum durability or, in the case of foodstuffs which, from the microbiological point of view, are highly perishable, the ‘use by’ date;
So far as anyone knows that has not been changed, altered or abolished. This paper by DEFRA gives an efficient summary of the subject, emphasises the fact that food labelling is controlled and regulated by the EU and talks of the ongoing negotiations (ongoing for some years) for reform of the system at the European level, there not being any other alternative.

As a matter of fact, we have been here before. Periodically, the subject of food labelling comes up, hacks and politicians get excited and make promises, then everything dies down as everybody realizes that this is not something our own Parliament can legislate on.

What do we see here? The same ridiculous story, this time by Louise Gray, on June 10, 2009. It looks like the Telegraph believes in recycling stories as well as everything else. That time Lord Willoughby de Broke asked a Written Question about it in the House of Lords:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether their proposals to clarify the "best before", "sell by" and "use by" recommendations on food products in retail outlets require the permission of the European Commission.
The answer was short and to the point:
Permission of the European Commission is not required as we are working within existing European Union law.
So, that's that. Can we now leave this subject alone or start saying something sensible about it? UPDATE: There is more on the subject over on EURef.

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