Montréal,  4 déc. - 17 déc. 1999
Numéro 50
  (page 6)
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 by Ralph Maddocks
          Some time ago I wrote of the ofttimes strange behaviour of the European Community in drawing up and administering regulations to govern various commercial activities. Indeed  the whole of next year could probably be spent in writing a weekly column on their seemingly idiotic activities, so rich is the available material with which to work. I will, however, content myself to issuing an occasional chronicle on the topic.  
            One discovery I have made is that even where a directive may seem to be reasonable and acceptable, the British hygiene officials often interpret it in a way which exceeds their authority, with concomitant damage to the economy. There are numerous examples available of their puritanical zeal and confrontational attitudes.  
          In one case, a short EU directive resulted in eighty-four pages of regulations in the UK, whereas the same directive resulted in just four pages in France. For example, EU regulations say that cheese should be kept « cool ». But UK regulators say it must be kept at 8°C. Before the EU regulations were created there were some 15 000 so-called « Specialist » or « artisan » cheese makers in the UK. As of April 1999, there are only 300, down from 2 000 a year before! According to a recent BBC report on the situation, 120 of these 300 are considering relocating their businesses to avoid this overzealous application of the regulations. In other European countries similar cheeses are produced without any of this bureaucratic rigidity.
It's all in the germs 
          Perhaps the attitude of the bureaucrats is best illustrated by the remark made by the Countess of Mar, a member of the steering committee for the Food Standards Agency who are charged with implementing EC directives. She reported that the agency regarded small food producers as « purveyors of germs ». Certainly this comment does much to explain many of the strange directives issued to UK cheese makers. 
          Hygiene problems are not the only hazards faced by the cheese makers. In Haverfordwest, a town in Wales, there is such a specialist who produced some 30 000 lbs a year of prize-winning Llangloffan cheese using milk from his own herd of Jersey cows. Cheese which is sold as far afield as New York and Detroit. Under the UK version of the EU rules, which are not applied to small cheese makers in France and Italy, he is forbidden to produce more milk on his farm. So instead of increasing his production of cheese to meet rising demand he was obliged to reduce it three times in just five years because of the EU system of milk quotas. These quotas are designed for dairy farmers in order to cut down on the over-production of milk in Europe. Introduced at twenty-four hours notice back in 1984 these quotas have resulted in Britain having gone from self-sufficiency in milk production to having to import 20% of its milk today. In 1993, the above producer received £200 ($480) from the Milk Marketing Board to « compensate » him for the tens of thousands of pounds of cheese he was not allowed to make and sell in the five years from 1988!  
          The farmer above was also instructed to put up a sign telling his visitors not to feed meat products to his cows. Under the EU anti-fraud measures he must keep records of the exact amount of milk fed to his stock. He does this by weighing each calf before and after they have suckled their mother! His visitors may also drink a glass of raw milk at his farm, milk which is regularly tested by two different sets of officials. However, he is also obliged to display a notice to the effect that his milk may contain bacteria which is injurious to health. For the privilege of having his dairy herd inspected, an operation which takes 20 minutes, he must pay £92 ($220) each time. Such is the UK government’s interpretation of the principles set out in the EU hygiene regulations that they tend to be both more rigid and strict and much more punitive than elsewhere. 
 « Instead of increasing his production of cheese to meet rising demand, a producer of Llangloffan was obliged to reduce it three times in just five years because of the EU system of milk quotas. »
          Back in 1993, the Danish Feta cheese industry was to be eliminated because they use cow’s milk and the white dye was to be banned. This would have stopped a very large export trade to Iran. Then the Danes were hit by a directive protecting products named after a geographical area, Feta may only be produced in Greece. While the Danes are allowed to continue to export, the 700,000 tons a year which they have been producing for the previous 20 years can no longer be sold as Feta in the EU. This year, the European Court of Justice agreed with the Danish, German and French cheese makers that they have been unjustly stopped from using the name Feta and the ban was lifted.  
          The UK government’s officials are unhappy with the fact that the microbial standards set by the EU milk hygiene directive have been derogated and they are pressing for an amendment to the law. Their imposition of standards will overturn a principle of food law, which says that a food may not be condemned unless there is evidence that it will cause harm. In future a cheese might be condemned because a laboratory test showed microbial levels above a certain standard, even if the scientific evidence showed the standard was not relevant to any assessment of health risk posed by that cheese. 
Dangerous Lanark Blue 
          The most egregious case of this type of harassment concerns a small Scottish producer of Lanark Blue Cheese. This farm operating since 1981 with some 400 ewes was producing about 40 tonnes a year of the cheese for export and domestic consumption. Such was their devotion to quality that not only did they have their own testing laboratory they were the first cheese farm to be accredited with the Food from Britain quality scheme for specialist cheese makers.  
          Suddenly, in 1994, the Clydesdale District Council’s Environmental Health Office (EHO) informed them that their cheese contained high levels of the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) and that an outbreak of human listeriosis with a mortality rate of 40% was feared. Unless they recalled all their cheese from the market and ceased trading the EHO would forcibly close the operation. 
          The farm immediately carried out its own tests and, although using fully accredited outside laboratories, could not replicate the results claimed. They then discovered that the Council’s testing labs were using unorthodox testing methods and they informed the Council that they would put their Lanark Blue cheese back on the market. The Council immediately applied for a court order condemning the entire inventory of cheese. More tests were called for, and the farm and Council were instructed to retest the stock using a mutually agreeable laboratory. They agreed on a lab but then the Council pulled out and insisted that the tests be done by the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and that all communication with them must be through the EHO. The Council informed the farm that the SAC had found the levels of bacteria to be unacceptably high, went back to court and refused to permit cross-examination of the evidence.  
          To cut a long story short, after 11 months and five court appearances they were finally able to show the Council’s case to be a complete sham and the judge found the Council’s expert « to be lacking in objectivity, insecure, and finding it necessary to support a view at all costs rather than approaching matters in a measured and balance way as a scientist and as an expert. » 
          The Council then claimed that the 1995 production of Lanark Blue cheese was as dangerous as the 1994 production and attempted to take core samples of every single days production. Again the farm returned to court with 70 laboratory certificates showing the cheese to be Lm free. An interdict was granted in spite of the council’s lawyer claiming that « the Council was not obliged to be seen to be acting reasonably, so long as their actions were in accordance with the terms of the 1990 Food Act. » The judge referred to the Council’s behaviour as tantamount to harassment and two months later found for the farm on every count and, while administrative enquiries of this nature are not customarily awarded costs, granted the farm several hundred thousand pounds in damages and costs for the « litigious pugnacity » shown by the Council. Naturally the farmer is still waiting for his money. Bureaucrats and their employers are sore losers I fear. 
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