Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Oh no, not food labelling again


What is it with David Cameron? Is he a kind of Rip van Winkle? Has he been asleep for years, if not decades?

Every time he comes up with a policy, those of us who have been paying attention sigh with weariness: been there, done that. The latest idea? Conservatives will ensure that food labelling will tell people that food is grown and produced in this country and locally.

Does the man not know that food labelling is an EU competence and has been for years? As we speak, a multi-annual plan for consolidating EU food labelling regulations is being rolled out. No Conservative or any other government can do anything about it. Most of it does not even go through Parliament, being EU Regulations rather than Directives.

Has the man forgotten or, come to think of it, did he ever know about the Little Red Tractor label that was supposed to signify “Assured Food Standards” but was slyly marketed by the NFU as an assurance that the food was British grown and British produced until told that it was illegal in the EU to discriminate in this way? The truth is that no food producer from any country whatsoever wanted to apply for the Little Red Tractor label and, after several relaunches, it died a peaceful death, rather like the tractor production industry in this country.

The Boy-King’s speech to the Oxford Farming Conference is full of shibboleths that were trendy a year or so ago and waffle. What it does not have is hard information. No amount of waffle about local production, the Slow Food Movement or the French not losing their link with food production (a debatable proposition) can hide the fact that the man either knows nothing or has chosen to ignore the following interesting facts: agriculture, food production (actually quite successful in this country), health and safety, labelling, environment, veterinary rules, are all EU competences.

There is no mention of the CAP, of the unrolling food labelling consolidation, of endless veterinary rules, of the meat hygiene directives, of the fact that according to the Treaty of Rome we are not allowed to discriminate against any other EU member state. I could go on but shall not. Read the whole speech and marvel at the man’s fatuity and ignorance even if “he was brought up in the country”.

Actually, given his much-boasted upbringing he ought to know that farmers in this country make up one per cent of the population (and around two per cent of rural population). A goodish number of them export their produce and are not likely to want to play protectionist games. And an even bigger number vote Labour, have always done so and will always do so. Why, therefore, should a man who does not think it worth his while to address the CBI, that is the wealth-producers of this country, go off to blather at this annual conference is anybody’s guess.

What a good thing I abandoned my resolution not to attack the Boy-King and his miserable party.

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