Friday, 12 October 2012

EC labels 'ban on re-using jam jars' stories 'completely untrue'

Following on from the 'ban on milk jugs' that wasn't, the EU has now been accused of banning people at village fetes from selling jam in re-used jars. 

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.

'It seems'.

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. 


  1. If it sounds utterly preposterous, then in all likelihood it isn't going to be true.

  2. We sell home-made jam and chutney at our market, and several of our customers asked about it yesterday. I was slightly worried, but I've seen enough EU myths debunked to google and see whether there was anything to it before actually panicking.

    1. I have seen a response from the FSA which advises the Church of England's Legal Advisors the EU rules preclude the use of recycled jam jar. I have read the regulations cited for this claim and there is NOTHING in either of them. Pity the FSA doesn't take the trouble to read such regulations rather than apparently relying on the Daily Mail and the Daily Express for their source of knowledge.

  3. Typical UK tabloids! - knee jerk reactions, lack of research and ready to throw their toys out of the pram the second the EU is mentioned.

    I do not envy politicians, rule makers or governing bodies who have to deal with the over opinionated, under informed public. People do not sit in offices making up rules for the sheer hell of it and how the media and public lurch from a kind of redneck, "commies under the god-damn bed" type of reaction to informed authority when it suits and then look for scapegoats and people to blame when something does go wrong. Ok so the current story is all about something the EU did not do but the cries from the tabloids primed and ready to leap in reaction to any infringement to our right to do exactly as we damn well please is part and parcel of the dilemna we have in Britain. Gone are the days when the non-expert deferred to the "boffin" nowadays everyone has an opinion on issues of safety or regulation regardless of whether they actually know anything about it.

    The level of "taxi driver" analysis that passes for debate in this country makes me ashamed to be British.


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