|Montreal, April 12, 2003 / No 123|
by Ralph Maddocks
As far as I can recall from my dwindling cerebral facilities, I believe that it was one Dr. Benjamin Rush, a civic leader in Philadelphia around 1775, who offered the view that "People who are dependent on foreigners for food ... must always be subject to them." A thought which may be of some interest to those of us winter bound in Canada, as well as to our friends in the European Union. The latter though are more likely to have their food supplies interrupted by the steady stream of regulations emanating from the gloomy but ever inventive bowels of the Brussels bureaucracy.
Some fifteen months ago, I wrote of some of the EU regulations which were being promulgated around that time regarding the sizes of peaches, carrots and apples and related the tale of the heated egg from the Sainsbury super-market which could not be so described (see FISHY BUSINESS IN THE EUROPEAN UNION, le QL, no 96). The European Commission has certainly not given up on the humble ovoid, having once again "gone to work on the egg." Its latest requirement is that farmers must stamp every egg they sell with their home address, the details of the hen which laid the egg, the method of production, the code for the producer-packer, and a sell-by date. Should the farmers grumble when the regulations come into effect next year, an anonymous Brussels troglodytic bureaucrat, speaking through his headgear or some other equally inappropriate outlet, offered his view that labelling "will be a nice job for [their] wives."
I suppose that we should not be too surprised by this display of politically correct concern for wedded co-operation. Yet, once again, Brussels is to penalise those small, independent producers, who must each now invest some $12,500 on labelling equipment. Each of the farmers affected is involved in the production of those high quality, organic, free range eggs so loved by British and other consumers. The required information is already stamped on each box of eggs so the real effect of this latest diktat will be yet again to drive many of them out of business. As the Daily Telegraph asked, "All this is to protect us from ever eating a rotten egg. Isn't the real rotten egg here the European Commission?"
In this time of great concern about the true identities of travellers, a time when proposals about ID cards and biometric scans are being bandied about by discredited politicians all over the place, it may interest readers to learn that, following a European Commission decision, all horses, ponies and donkeys born in the UK after 1998 will have to have their own passports. It was not immediately clear though whether the definition of a donkey is to include every politician born after that date. The apparent intention of this decision is not for the purposes of travelling, sale or purchase but simply for existing, and no exceptions are to be allowed either.
The original decision, 93/623, was intended to simplify the trade in pure-bred horses and the Commission's decision 2000/68 amended it to make sure that horses treated with certain drugs did not enter the food chain. It required each horse to have a passport showing all drugs taken by the animal if the animal was intended ultimately for consumption by humans, presumably the horse-flesh eating inhabitants of that landmass off the south eastern coast of England. The UK government which as usual "gold plated" the original EU decision, introduced this compulsory scheme, complete with $12,500 fines or six months imprisonment for non-compliance.
Four questions occur. Was a passport scheme necessary? Did the Government consult those concerned properly? Was the proposal regarding implementation of the decision the right one? Have the drawbacks of their scheme been fully understood? As far as can be discovered, the answer to each of these questions seems to be resoundingly negative. The UK government could have but apparently did not choose to fight such an fatuous proposal in the contemplative halls of the EU.
While, following the self inflicted disaster of the last Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, cows too must have passports, they do not include any information about which drugs a given animal may have ingested. Farmers are asked at the abattoir if any drugs which could enter the food chain have been administered to the animal during the last six months. Since, in countries like the UK, it is extremely rare for horses to enter the food chain the equine passport seems to serve no purpose beyond the usual one of annoying the tax paying horse owners. Horses, like their bovine companions destined for consumption, could be dealt with orally at the abattoir, a simple declaration being sufficient.
Presumably to prevent sheep from becoming terrorists the EU Commission proposed last year that all sheep in Europe carry not one, but two 14-digit ear tags. The proposal ignores the fact that sheep ear tags are very prone to falling out, becoming tangled in hedges and the like. One can only imagine the record keeping nightmare of the 14-digit numbers. Adding insult to injury, farmers will be liable for prosecution if the tags fall out. Farmers believe that in fact, the proposal is so bureaucratic and impractical that it will be a backward step in respect of the identification and traceability of sheep and demonstrates the bureaucrats' total ignorance of the sheep industry. The EU has also defined what meat is, and certain sausages may not be thus called any more if they contain low levels of meat, or low quality ingredients such as gristle. Black pudding and haggis have been reclassified as "food ready to eat," but butchers licensed only to sell raw meat are now forbidden to sell these items. Thus far, no answer has appeared in response to the question of what vegetarian "sausages," which contain no meat at all, are to be called.
Another example of British bureaucrats interpreting EU regulations in their own special way is a Statutory Instrument is known as SI 889. Title: FOOD, ENGLAND - The Meat (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) (England) Regulations 2002. Initially the act will apply to meat but other food producers will be covered later and yet again it is the small and medium producers who will be affected the most. This law is particularly bizarre, even taking EU bureaucratic standards into account, in that its key section, which makes compulsory the adoption of a system of food safety management known as "Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points" (HACCP), was originally developed for the US space programme, NASA, in the 1960s. The idea behind the HACCP system was to guarantee high purity food for astronauts involved in the moon landing programme, a matter of critical importance to them because uncontrolled bodily functions in a space suit might prove disconcertingly inconvenient. HACCP, which NASA found to be extremely successful in avoiding unintended consequences, was devised for very sophisticated food processing operations and has been adapted successfully only in large food processing systems.
The main features of HACCP involve written procedures for each menu or each item in a food operation, an analysis to determine potential hazards and the listing of controls to be applied at "critical points" in each process even including such mindless tasks as frying a simple egg, presumably one duly stamped with hen's provenance, the farmer's name and address, etc. Next, detailed records are to be kept to prove that each of the critical process controls has been implemented, records which must always be available for inspection to prove that the system has been reviewed each time changes are made, even changes as simple as boiling the perfectly identified egg instead of frying it. Just the kind of highly bureaucratic paper based system loved by governments everywhere and which, in the highest traditions of government, will require food traders to document practically every action they take. In the UK, failure to follow the regulation involves the criminal sanction of a $12,500 fine and/or three months in prison. Those who do not immediately dispose of their businesses in despair must undergo expensive and compulsory training, the implementation of which is estimated to cost the small and medium business sector about $5 billion a year.
The complexities of a highly technological system such as HACCP are not easily grasped by the average person, and certainly not by the average elected official and only one Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Nigel Farage, seems to have been bright enough to point out the obvious flaw. Something which has been developed for a sophisticated high technology-based organisation is simply not appropriate for a High Street caff, a bistro in the rue de la Révolution, in Marseilles, and certainly not at Ristorante Giuseppe in downtown Tolegno. Farage asked why, if the present laws were not being complied with, was the Commission creating even more laws? Following his argument closely, the EU parliament, in their time honoured custom of avoiding serious reflection, passed the law with a massive majority and after a few procedural changes it is to become law in 2004.
During the appalling outbreak of FMD in the UK in 2001, certain cynics believed it to have been a deliberate act intended to destroy animal husbandry in the UK in order to ensure importation of meat from other EU countries. What was interesting was that meat was still being imported from Namibia, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentine all of which have suffered outbreaks of foot and mouth during that same period. In addition, South Africa has endemic foot and mouth but imports from that country were late to be banned. The carcasses were imported with the disease and used by restaurants and school kitchens. The remains were fed later to pigs which then incubated the disease and spread it. Displaying its obvious concern for its unfortunate citizens the UK agriculture ministry said that "responsibility for approving countries from which it was safe to export meat lay with the European Union."
Among other regulations enacted by the EU is one which forbids chemicals being washed off vehicles into drains in public places. In other words, the Sunday car washing ritual so common throughout the UK, is no longer likely to be permitted. The regulation means in effect that even public conveyances can no longer be cleaned and must retain the graffiti and grime attached to their surfaces until suitable means can be found to dispose of the effluent. On the European landmass itself drivers are only permitted to hand wash their cars in specially designated areas, rather than on the streets of the city or town in which they reside.
In Scotland, in Edinburgh to be precise, the municipal bus company has been using a biodegradable vegetable-based cleaning fluid but this too apparently falls foul of the EU regulations. A spokesman for the Edinburgh City Council said that, "We have received notification from SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) that our bus cleaners can no longer use any type of detergent to wash off grime and graffiti," adding, "We are waiting to find out what if any cleaning fluids we can use or whether we just have to use cloths that have already been impregnated with the stuff." No doubt this kind of regulation brings joy to the hearts of the environmentally conscious among us. The increases in fares which will inevitably result from such regulations will doubtless be cause for public protest from that same group acting in their role as defenders of the poor and oppressed.
The EU is not above rewriting history whenever it suits it. Pupils from a well known public (read private) school in England, Oundle, have travelled to Germany each year for the last twenty odd years to visit various sites of historical interest. The centrepiece of the visits has always been the Ploetzersee prison outside Berlin, where the Nazis executed more than 2,500 of their opponents, including many of those involved in the von Stauffenberg bomb plot in 1944. The Oundle teacher, one Philip Pedley, who has led these visits for the last twenty three years commented, "This place of horror naturally chills our pupils, but I have always regarded the visit as a pilgrimage in honour of those sane individuals who gave their lives for freedom." Imagine then his shock when on his latest visit he found memorials dominated by an opulent new display commemorating "victims who died for the European Union." The memorial bears the names of four German Socialists who believed in a pan-European labour movement. As Mr. Pedley said, "The idea, that these brave idealists laid down their lives for the European Union is worse than absurd. It is an outrageous, cynical and immoral rewriting of history." Of course, unless you are a student of history or over sixty years of age, such a memorial would excite neither attention nor comment.
Those who thought that the EU was essentially a free trade arrangement were perhaps not surprised when the European Union imposed an unprecedented multi-million euro fine on the French National Federation of Farmers' Unions (FNSEA) and five other bodies for illegally fixing minimum prices for beef market during the mad cow crisis. The $18 million US fine was justified said the EU Competition director, Mario Monti, because three of the French organisations including the FNSEA, used violence to coerce the owners of slaughter-houses to comply with the arrangement. The Commission also pointed its collective finger at the Socialist agriculture minister of the time, Jean Glavany, who it claimed "put pressure on the slaughter-houses to agree to sign the deal ... and then praised it as an act of civic sprit."
Naturally the union has appealed for government help, saying that such a fine threatened the FNSEA's future existence and has threatened widespread protests. The present Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, told Europe 1 Radio, "I think that if farmers are going to revolt, to rise up, I ask them to do it calmly." The former agriculture minister Jean Glavany said, "What I find absolutely astounding is that I have been found guilty without anyone even hearing my case or telling me or asking for explanations. That's a system of law and justice which I find hard to accept."
Really! This is precisely the kind of proceeding likely to be seen ever more frequently in the future as it is exactly the "guilty until proven innocent" basis of Corpus Juris, a system approved and supported by Mr. Glavany and his successors. A perfect illustration of the Law of Unintended Consequences no doubt.
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