Chris Young says that the UK government continues to avoid answering Real Bread Campaign questions.
If you’re in the UK and have written to your local MP, urging them to support the current Early Day Motion 1523, thank you.
If not, please do today! So far, 26 MPs have signed but we need more, particularly from the Tory side of The House to show we have cross-parliamentary support for our proposed improvements to loaf labelling and marketing law.
In October 2020 we wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs. Despite Defra’s 20 day target response time, it took over four months of me chasing to secure a reply.
The two-page letter that eventually came in March 2021 (from an Under Secretary, rather than the Secretary of State himself), failed to answer any of our questions. The last, non-committal paragraph read: “We also intend to conduct a review of the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 in England taking into consideration wider regulatory issues raised by industry and any outcomes following on from joint UK Government and Devolved Administrations consultation on the proposed additional requirement to fortify flour with folic acid. We hope that we might start this in the near future now the transition period has ended.”
Also in March, people who had written to their MPs began to receive versions of what appeared to be a standard response. Again, these failed to address most of the specific points we are making, or to demonstrate the support their constituents – and we – are asking for. Here’s what I wrote back to one, Chris Skidmore, the Conservative MP for Kingswood:
After years of declining to do so, and only following campaigns run by bereaved families, manufacturers and retailers had to be forced to declare allergens. What ‘unnecessary burden’ is it now on a bakery of any size to declare flour, water, yeast, salt at the same time? Perhaps the issue is that some manufacturers use so many additives that they are embarrassed or will even struggle to fit them all onto a small label?
Is your government’s reluctance actually the result of pressure from the likes of supermarket in-store ‘bakeries’ that don't want to label as this would require admissions of using long lists of additives, that their products are fundamentally different from Real Bread crafted by local bakeries? Baking industry press publishes a constant stream of reports concluding that shoppers want ‘clean label’ food, and adverts by additive dealers for new substances that either sound ‘more natural’ or can be deemed ‘processing aids’ and therefore left off the label.
What information about food could be more essential than a full list of what it is made from? How is not declaring this essential information on a label at the point of purchase making it clear to customers? Have you ever tried asking for an ingredients list at an in-store loaf tanning salon? I have several times, which in all cases involved a longer wait than an average shopper would stand, including twice when I gave up after being left there for more than quarter of an hour.
Other than sourdough, you fail to address the specific descriptors we are asking about. What about freshly-baked, wholegrain, handmade, artisan, heritage wheat, ancient grains? When will they have legal definitions, so we all know where we stand?
You did, however, bring up descriptors including ‘traditional’. Guidance on their use dropped off the FSA website when the relaunched it several years ago. They promised it would be re-published but I still can't find it. How can manufacturers, retailers and consumer protection bodies do the right thing if the right thing is not readily available to them?
We all know that self-regulation fails to create a level playing field and fails to protect shoppers. See the cases of health warnings on alcohol and tobacco and my point on allergen labelling above - people have died waiting for industry self-regulation. While we're not saying people will die due to lack of information about supermarket and other industrial loaf products, we all have the right to see what goes into our food and how it is made for whatever reason(s) we want or need to know.
Typically, industry codes of practice are written by, and best suit the needs of, big businesses, rather than SMEs, customers, the environment etc. In the case of sourdough, industrial loaf fabricators have drafted one - without even consulting Real Bread bakers, the de facto custodians of the skills, knowledge and practice of this baking tradition. You can read our response to what we see as a cheats' charter here.
One thing that we do share is the pleasure that the UK now has the chance to make its own laws, to build and improve on (rather than repeal, diminish and destroy) the fantastic legacy of consumer and producer protection that our membership of the EU. We celebrated this silver lining in 2019, when the then Secretary of State at Defra promised that loaf labelling and marketing laws would be reviewed.
Two years later we are still asking, and your government is still avoiding the question - when will this happen? Can the small bakery business owners and shoppers in your constituency count on you signing EDM 1523 as a clear, public demonstration of your support for them?
I look forward to you and your government's answers to all of our questions.