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Jonathan Petre writing in the Daily Mail on 7 October 2112 says “Don’t sell jam in re-used jars – by order of Europe”. There is a copy of the advice: “We contacted the Food Standards Agency and were told this is the case”. Legal advisers to Britain’s churches are quoted as saying “This is not a spoof” – people cannot sell conserves in re-used glass jars. The Women’s Institute we are told, has formed a similar judgement.

The word from the Mail spreads to balmy Worcestershire: “Barmy EU rules” reads the headline in the Pershore Observer on October 2012. Many regional journals have followed suit, with pictures of miffed Women’s Institute members.

The Mail gives stature to its complaint by quoting the reference number of the EU regulation it holds responsible. This regulation turns out to be called ‘Good manufacturing practice for materials and articles intended to come into contact with food’. It regards the manufacture only, of articles coming into contact with food. It does not talk about the filling of the containers. It does not itemise any specific food. It does not make any mention whatsoever of the re-use of containers.

So the EU regulation claimed as the cause of WI woes, turns out to have nothing to do with them. Who is the instigator then? Can it be the UK’s own Food Standards Agency? The FSA says: “There is no system of Government or other official approval for food contact materials and articles. Instead, the responsibility for ensuring compliance with the legislation lies squarely with the manufacturer, retailer and importer. They have to take all reasonable precautions, and exercise all due diligence, to avoid committing an offence.”

No – again, nothing about a ban on re-using jam jars.

So there is no basis for the Daily Mail’s presentation, nor the Pershore Journal’s accusation of EU interference.

What is the origin of the fuss then?

One possibility is that Britain has developed a litigation habit. It is remotely arguable that since a WI jam-maker didn’t buy the jars from a manufacturer of food-containers, she cannot prove that they were intended for contact with food. So maybe some legal jobsworth is saying she is at risk of litigation. But the EU regulation is over 8 years old and the FSA advice refers to the Food Safety Act 1990. No such case is known to have come to court in this period.

A second possibility is that this is a red-top journalist seeking sensation. WI’s are all Jam and Jerusalem, and a scandal is created if this grand, charming old British tradition is being thwarted. Scandals help sell newspapers – never mind the facts.

Thirdly, this could be one more contribution to a disappointed England blaming Johnny foreigner. Johnny’s a great target particularly if he’s a ‘Brussels bureaucrat’. An ever-growing target of Euromyths has been assembled over the years, and this is one more straw in the popinjay.

One thing is clear; the journalists who wrote the stories never read the legislation upon which they rely. Equally clear – a British housewife may confidently ignore this speculative and malicious tub-thumping and continue to carry out her own wise and practical procedures. It’s the over-zealous lawyers, the newspapers and the little Englanders who have been caught out here, not the good and great of the Women’s Institute.

Lawrence Brower

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