Artisan Food Law Blog
In the UK, food products bearing a 'protected food name' are on average sold at a significant premium to the price of otherwise comparable food. Protecting the authenticity and value of traditional foods is crucial if we are to sell the UK as a source of delicious and high-quality food, rooted in good food stories, traditional skills and history. Yet descriptions that protect both value and values are at risk from changes to our food rules consequent on the EU Withdrawal (Repeal) Bill and new international trade deals.
It has been striking to note the rise in recent months of the number of dairy farmers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who are turning to the direct sale of raw drinking milk. Mostly, it seems, by means of on-farm raw milk vending machines. In March this year there was a total of 114 producers of raw drinking milk registered with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), a figure which has now risen to 158, an increase of almost 39% in a little over six months. The decline in milk prices and increased production are seen as drivers for the growth of raw milk vending machines across Europe. Many see these machines as helping farmers steer through the dairy crisis by providing an alternative route to market at a more favourable price. Are we entering the Golden Age of raw drinking milk?
Some of you may be thinking that with Brexit looming what’s the point of a piece on bakery law? Well, it isn’t going to happen anytime soon, may take a decade or more and even then little may change. So, food law has been around a while, it all started with bread - the Assize of Bread and Ale 1266 to be precise - and here we cover some present day real bread law highlights.
A timely report from Public Health Collaboration on healthy eating caused quite a stir among those responsible for the recently revamped official Eatwell Guide and Public Health England. The report accused major public health bodies of colluding with the food industry and called for a major overhaul of current dietary guidelines. The focus on a low-fat diet fails to address Britain’s obesity crisis.
It may come as a surprise to those who have read all the criticism of EU regulations to be found elsewhere on this blog, but remaining a part of the EU is by far the better choice for small scale food producers. The UK must remain an integral and key player in the future of Europe following the vote this Thursday. The debate around what the UK contributes to the EU is well-rehearsed, suffice to say here that it amounts to just 11.8p a day to the average taxpayer or 0.37% of GDP in 2015. Contrast this with all the benefits derived from membership and it soon starts to look good value for money. Furthermore, the potential for change were the UK to leave the EU is almost entirely illusory - there would be no bonfire of regulations. A vote to leave would be hugely damaging to many small scale food producers, many may never recover, the burgeoning independent food scene in the UK would be dealt a serious blow. Much better to work on what we have than throw it all away.
The foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in 2001 witnessed the slaughter of millions of animals and horrific images of burning pyres of dead livestock across the British countryside that will be etched on the memories of many for decades to come. Official figures put the cost of the outbreak at over £8 billion. The economic, environmental, social and human cost was, however, much higher and far in excess of what it ought to have been. The scale of the outbreak was due largely due to the fact that it was one of the most poorly managed. The ban on swill-feeding pigs was one among many hasty, ill-considered actions. We live with the legacy of the ban on swill-feeding today, at a time when the imperative is to eliminate food waste and reduce food miles to combat climate change. The rationale which underpinned the ban must be brought into question.
Late last summer Artisan Food Law wrote about a forthcoming short study, undertaken on behalf of and working with Slow Food International, on the impact of 'flexibility' within the Hygiene Package which has now been completed. Few question the need for stringent rules regulating industrial food production, but when we talk about artisan cheese producers we are referring to a group of producers who exercise direct control over the whole of the production process and a very different situation. There is some concession made for small scale producers in the Hygiene Package in the form of 'flexibility'. It all sounds like a great idea. In practice it involves a regulatory system of derogations or exemptions, adaptations and exclusions beyond the comprehension of all but the most committed legal mind. Are these arrangements and the policy they reflect fit for purpose?
The Scottish Government is calling for UK flour to be fortified with synthetic folic acid in order to reduce birth defects, especially neural tube conditions such as spina bifida. The UK government is still considering its position after positive recommendations from its advisors, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). No-one can argue against the desirability of improving the diet and health of women before and during pregnancy, nor dismiss the Scottish government’s concern that low folate status affects deprived communities most severely. Putting synthetic folic acid in flour is an attractively simple solution, but it would be a big mistake. Andrew Whitley of Bread Matters explains why the fortification of flour with folic acid would be a big mistake.