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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

You COULD make it up: On abolishing eggs by the dozen

EggsSo, the EU is apparently planning to make it illegal to sell eggs by the dozen – or indeed to sell any products at all by number, instead forcing producers and retailers alike to sell only by weight.

“Utter madness!”, you cry. “How could anyone possibly be so stupid? It’s ridiculous!”

Yes. Yes it is ridiculous.

The story started (as far as I can tell*) in the europhobic Mail (over 1000 outraged comments and counting), before spreading to the usual suspects of the anti-EU blogs and the knee-jerk eurosceptics of Tory blogland – the latter starting with the classic cliche “You really couldn’t make it up”.

By the end of Monday, 28th June, the story had even spread to the BBC where, as of 10pm, it was ranking as the second most popular story on the site.

Shamefully for the BBC – supposedly a bastion of responsible journalism – this is a story made up entirely of quotes from supposed experts who evidently don’t know what they’re talking about, with “A UK minister” and an unnamed spokesman from the UK Federation of Bakers being added to the anonymous source that started the hysteria rolling, the “FSA spokeswoman” quoted by the Mail, who says:

“This proposal would disallow selling by numbers. Retailers would not be allowed to put “Six eggs” on the front of the box. If it was a bag of rolls, it would say “500g” instead of six rolls.”

This statement is utterly false.

Indeed, all you have to do is read the proposed regulation itself (warning: PDF) – which makes precisely no mention of outlawing selling by numbers.

In fact, quite the opposite – Annex VIII makes explicit exceptions for foods “which are sold by number”. (This only slightly amended in the final version, despite the apparent claim in the BBC article that such a get-out had been rejected.)

John Band – formerly something of an expert in the food industry in the real world – has already successfully demolished all claims that selling by numbers will be outlawed. He also helpfully points out that

eggs are already graded by weight – e.g. a ‘large’ egg weighs 63-73g – which requires them to be weighed

.

Of course, the *existing* legislation requiring eggs to be weighed is just one part of a vast array of rules and regulations that cover food packaging – none of which, it would appear, most of the supposed experts quoted in all the media coverage of this non-story know anything about.

Indeed, back in April, Compassion in World Farming was complaining about the very same proposed bit of legislation – because it threatens to *reduce* the amount of information currently required (under rules brought in a decade ago).

And please note, from that September 2000 article, this:

“To date, it has been mandatory to put the following indications on packs of eggs: the name of the trader, the number of the packing centre, quality and weight grading, number of eggs, date of minimum durability and appropriate storage, recommendations, particulars as to refrigeration/preservation in the case of grade B eggs (refrigerated or preserved eggs), packing date for eggs of other grades and for imported eggs”

Where this has been turned by the Mail and the rest of the anti-EU crowd into a story about Brussels bureaucrats’ mad over-regulation, the truth of the matter is *precisely* the opposite – these new rules are instead entirely and explicitly about deregulation, as anyone who read the original document would be able to see in a second.

The aim is not to force food producers to include *more* unnecessary information on their packaging, but to remove the existing requirements to include insane levels of detail about (for example) farming conditions, nutritional information, etc. etc. etc. As the proposal itself states:

“The emphasis is on simplifying the regulatory process, thus reducing the administrative burden and improving the competitiveness of the European food industry”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should never believe anything you read in the British press. All it takes is one hack staff writer on a paper with a political agenda to get something wrong, and soon everyone else is following the story up – not by going back to the supposed source of the outcry, but by phoning various rent-a-quotes and asking them their opinion on something they almost certainly know even less about than the journalist who started the whole thing rolling:

Hack journalist: “Hi, it’s Christopher Leake from the Mail on Sunday. What do you think about the EU’s proposals to ban selling eggs by the dozen?”

Anonymous spokesperson: “Eh? They’re proposing what? That’s ridiculous! [Insert ill-informed rant]

Hack journalist following up initial bullshit story: “Hi, it’s Laurence Peter from the BBC. I just wanted to get your opinion on this story about the EU banning the selling of eggs by the dozen.”

First MEP to pick up the phone (in this case Glenis Willmott): “Oh, the BBC? Right… Erm… (Shit! I can’t let on that I don’t know what I’m talking about… Erm…) Well… [Insert off-the-cuff vaguely plausible explanation of why legislation that doesn’t actually exist might possibly be considered sensible, plus vague assurances that there are normally get-outs for this sort of thing, thus lending even more credence to the story even though there’s nothing actually going on.]

And thus another Euromyth is born. It’s all strangely familiar – once again, EU deregulation is presented as over-regulation thanks to the seemingly wilful ignorance of the anti-EU press, and the poor journalistic standards of the rest of the media. Even though this story is utter bollocks, expect it to be trotted out for years to come. Just like with those straight bananas

UPDATE: A categorical rejection of this story from the European Parliament itself:

The European Parliament’s rapporteur on the food labelling regulation, Renate Sommer (Germany, EPP group) responded today: “In principle, there will be no changes to selling foods by quantity. Selling eggs by the dozen, for example, will not be banned”.

UPDATE – 1st July: The Food Standards Agency has responded to my request for a clarification of their position, following their anonymous spokesperson’s misleading quote in the Mail.

UPDATE 2: Just came across this, via the Scottish Executive. A handy summary of existing EU egg labelling regulations. Please note:

“Minimum standards of quality and weight grading

“The regulations apply to hen eggs marketed within the Community. They do not apply to eggs sold direct by producers to the final consumer at the farm gate, in local public markets (with the exception of auction markets), or by door-to-door selling. “

Please note also that there is already a requirement to own “a machine for grading the eggs by weight”.

There. Is that categorical enough for you?

* I very much doubt the story actually originated at the Mail – they don’t have the resources to trawl through reams of EU legislation looking for things that they can turn into stories, because the vast majority of EU legislation is deeply boring and innocuous. I’d imagine that they got the tip-off from some anti-EU campaign group, think tank or party, probably in the form of a press release, and that the Mail also didn’t bother to look at the original text but just leapt straight onto the phones looking for quotes to pad the story out a bit. But I don’t know this for certain and so – unlike the Mail – I’m not going to state it as fact.

27 Comments

  1. It’s stuff like this that’s the main reason I now spend more time reading blogs than newspapers.

  2. So why does the Food Standards Agency oppose the move, on the grounds that it will have precisely the effect you deny it will have? Neither your nor JB’s attempts to undermine this story even begin to address this. Instead you swipe it asside. You ASSUME, on no evidence whatever, that an FSA spokesperson was caught on the hop and spoke out of turn. That is NOT what the reports suggest. Instead, both the FSA and the food industry opposed the regulation in its current form. The food industry has reason to think it will cost them money and will not benefit consumers. The FSA interpretation of the rule is that it will forbid the sale of goods by quantity. That’s the fact, much as you try to deny it.

    I’m afraid your attachment to the myth of the Euromyth, and your triumphalism in being able to “destroy” one, has subsumed your critical faculties here.

  3. Heresiarch – So you take the reported word of an *unnamed* purported spokesperson over dozens of links, fully-referenced quotations, and evidently time-consuming research?

    I don’t know *why* the anonymous spokeswoman from the FSA got it so wrong – but they did.

    I also don’t “assume” anything – I did the research, as did John Band. That spokeswoman, it would appear, either did no research, or their research was not sufficiently in depth.

    This unnamed spokeswoman spoke from a position of ignorance – and I would expect the Food Standards Agency to issue a clarification, especially as they were closely involved in the redrafting of the EU legislation from an early stage.

    Please also note that the FAS says *nothing* about this supposed ban on their news section.

    One quote from a single unnamed spokesperson does not the view of an entire organisation make.

    I’m afraid *your* attachment to the myth of the EU’s perniciousness, and your credulity in believing everything you read that confirms your own prejudices, has subsumed *your* critical faculties here.

  4. Heresiarch – I’ve just contacted the FSA’s press office for a statement. I’ll publish if/when they get back to me – will that clear it up for you?

  5. I’ve been seeing this story in various news outlets (mostly in India, for some reason) for about a week now, so I think it’s safe to assume the Daily Mail didn’t break this shocking story of the government’s abuse of power to impose its mad regulation on the little man.

  6. Cheers Nosemonkey, despite my sceptical nature towards all things EU, I have to say when I read the report, my initial reaction was that it was bollocks but I didn’t have time to research it.

    The frustating thing is that the UK media quite happily reports nonsense like this but in areas where EU legialation does real damage, they ignore it even when the correct Directives are pointed out in comments sections.

    Personalyl I wouldn’t trust the Mail to get the football results right.

  7. TheBoilingFrog – Indeed. As I’ve argued before, there’s plenty to complain about when it comes to the EU without making up complete nonsense – it doesn’t do the anti-EU cause any good at all.

  8. Eggs seem to be sold in all sorts of numbers 10 9 15 12 6 18 all are freely available in our local shops.

  9. I’ve just updated this post with a link to a categorical denial that selling eggs by number is going to be banned, courtesy of the European Parliament – including a quote from the rapporteur (i.e. official spokesman) for the regulation itself.

    Will this lay this non-story to rest? I somehow doubt it.

  10. If they’re so anxious to reduce costs of european food production and make the industry more competitive globally then the solution is obviously to dismantle CAP and CFP.

    This sort of tinkering round the edges is just taking the piss.

  11. cuffleyburgers – Yes. Because it’s that simple, isn’t it? Why has no one thought of reforming the CAP or CFP before? Why has nobody been trying to do just that for the last three decades?

    /sarcasm

    You do realise that the only reason that the European farming industry survives in the global market is because of the unfair advantage of EU subsidies? Or did you just not think through the logic of what you were writing? Or do you just not know what you’re talking about?

  12. Great article & thanks for the research!

  13. Pingback: Follow up: Crack an egg « EU Weekly

  14. …and now the Daily Mail has moved onto Traditional Euromyth Narrative Part 2, implying its brave campaign has scuppered Brussels’ fiendish plans, rather than that its brave campaign was made up in the first place.

    Heresiarch: The main body representing the UK food industry is the Food & Drinks Federation. It has welcomed the EU legislation.

  15. Pingback: Roy Greenslade: Mail on Sunday guilty of spreading Euro-myth over eggs « International Globe

  16. Very interesting. Though the mails story was so stupid it was obviously not true.
    Why do people pay any attention to that pointless paper.

  17. Pingback: The Food Standards Agency responds over their EU banning selling eggs by number quote | Nosemonkey's EUtopia

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  19. I think you’ll find the Daily Mail got it from Grocer magazine.

  20. Pingback: bloggingportal.eu Blog & Support » Blog Archive » The Week in Bloggingportal: Death of the Pseudonyms

  21. Negrin – I hadn’t seen that, no… Crikey.

    Just left this comment:

    Iain – I’ve read the entire Grocer article. I’ve also read the original legislation. And the amendments. And contact the Food Standards Agency, European Parliament and European Commission for statements and clarifications.

    Not that I needed to do all this, because it was pretty apparent that this story was a load of old bollocks from the headline. Even arch-eurosceptic Richard North of EU Referendum dismissed it as obvious bullshit.

    I think the reason people are so annoyed is that you pretend to be some kind of leading blogger, yet are happy to unthinkingly regurgitate print media stories without even doing the most basic of secondary checks.

    Hell – you think that the Liberal Conspiracy story was written by Sunny Hundal, and dismiss it on that bases. (It isn’t, as anyone who bothered to follow the link would know.)

    Is that really how far your research extends? Dismissing sources you dislike or disagree with out of hand while instantly believing any old rubbish that confirms your prejudices?

    *sarcastic applause*

  22. Pingback: Euroblog Round-up: Death of the Pseudonyms | Eurogoblin.eu

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  25. What you write is fascinating, and in some way— important. But who are you writing for? There are people like you, me, and all the commenters; who don’t need to be told the egg story is ridiculous; and then there are the people who read the story and get outraged and they’re never going to read your blog.

    I’m not sure what my point is; I’m glad you wrote the post, but at the same time — I dunno.