To stay sane you need a sense of the ridiculous

By Clare Cheney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union Denmark

Clare Cheney, director general, Provision Trade Federation
Clare Cheney, director general, Provision Trade Federation
Considering the years of haggling that led up to the adoption of the EU Food Information Regulation (FIR), you might have expected all possible aspects of interpretation to have been covered. Alas, no, as revealed by the questions that keep cropping up on the practicalities.

The EU working group on FIR has its work cut out as it tries to answer questions such as whether fish products made in Denmark can be labelled with a Danish flag or with 'Danish fish'. But how do you decide the nationality of a fish that may have swum through waters of different nationalities but was processed in Denmark? Short of starting a conversation with fish to find out what language it understands, it could be labelled along the lines of 'fish caught in Danish waters, smoked in Denmark'.

But who is going to police where it was caught? Do people need to know where the fish came from? When it comes to labelling, the European Commission officials see it as their job to ensure consumers are told about every aspect whether they want it or not.

Unable to envisage

Officials seem unable to envisage all possible questions concerning the practicalities of their proposals. The more legislation there is, the more questions there are and therefore the greater burden on industry to comply. If you want to measure the size of the burden, it is the number of questions spawned that matter.

The answers may be arbitrary, depending on the composition of the committee that answers and who shouts the loudest. Taking the example above, the representatives from maritime countries with a fish processing industry may be influenced by vested interests in being able to put their own flags on their produce regardless of where the fish has been spawned, reared and slaughtered.

Do you have to call a prawn a crustacean?

Another question on the committee's agenda concerns names of allergens now that they have to be highlighted in the ingredients' list rather than in a separate box. Do you have to call a prawn a crustacean because the latter is the name of the category of allergen? But then, how many people know what crustacean means? Obviously the producer will want to be able to say that their product contains prawns as distinct from shrimps, lobsters or woodlice.

But then, do they need to provide the word 'crustacean' in brackets after the name of the species? This would make the ingredients list even longer.

These were but two of 27 questions on the agenda of the working group that met on May 23. You wonder whether the only way to remain sane in the discussions is to share a sense of the ridiculous.

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