On 6 October, the Mail reported:
They are the backbone of church fetes, village fairs and jumble sales all around the country.
But the thousands who regularly sell their home-made jam, marmalade or chutney in re-used jars may have to abandon their traditions after a warning that they are breaching European health and safety regulations.
Two days later, the Express, under the headline 'Home-made jam? EU bosses want to ban it', repeated the story:
The great British tradition of selling home-made jams and chutneys at fetes could be a thing of the past – thanks to meddling Brussels bureaucrats.
It seems the recycled jars generally used by jam-making enthusiasts are in breach of European health and safety regulations.
The EC Commission in the UK has now responded to these claims - and called them 'completely untrue':
Recent media coverage on reusing jars for homemade jams for sale at charity events certainly fired up the imagination of the headline writers: “EU elf ‘n safety tsars ban jam sales at fetes” and “anger spreads over EU fines threat for reusing old jam jars”, “EU fine for homemade jam makers”. This is all completely untrue. There are no EU laws, new or old, which ban re-using old jam jars for fetes. The EU also has no powers to fine people.
There is indeed a body of EU food safety and hygiene legislation – notably so that the UK and other countries can be confident that food imported from or bought elsewhere in the EU is safe and of high quality. But these rules apply only to business operators and not to those preparing food for charity events such as church fetes or school bazaars.
What is more, the rules do not anyway ban re-using clean jam jars: the European Commission is not aware of any risk from chemicals related to this re-use.
The Daily Telegraph to its credit reported this properly on 7 October, saying that the Church of England had issued guidance and quoting the UK Food Safety Authority explaining that the interpretation of the regulations was the responsibility of local authorities, who would decide what constituted a “food business” and adding that “an occasional event, like a fund-raiser… would probably not be considered to be a food business.”
The Express then span this into a ridiculous story about “meddling Brussels bureaucrats”. The Mail did at least mention that the FSA had said enforcement was down to individual local authorities…but left this until paragraph 7 of a story misleadingly headlined “Anger spreads over EU fines threat for reusing old jam jars.” The Telegraph then had another piece – at least it was an intentionally funny one – blaming EU Directives after all.
While BBC Radio 4 You and Yours covered the story sensibly, BBC Breakfast ran an item that assumed wrongly that the EU has banned jam jars.
None of the media who produced these seriously misleading stories contacted the European Commission first.
No contact with the EC, but both the Mail and the Express did find room for a quote from The Great British Bake Off's Mary Berry.