Scrambled – the EU 'threat' to British eggs

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The European Union will not outlaw the sale of groceries by quantity, despite scare stories to the contrary

Look away Eurosceptics. Those meddling Brussels bureaucrats have let you down again and are not going to ban the sale of eggs by the dozen.

To the disappointment of red-top newspapers and irate contributors to talk radio, the European Union confirmed yesterday that MEPs had not voted to do away with a cherished feature of Great British life.

In an emergency statement, the European Parliament said: "Selling eggs by the dozen will not be illegal under the terms of the amendments adopted to EU food labelling proposals. Labels will still be able to indicate the number of items in a pack – whether it's eggs, bread rolls or fish fingers."

While dismaying EU critics who had pounced on reports suggesting it was banning common-sense labelling, the news will put at rest the minds of shoppers facing the spectre of having to guess how many food items were in cartons containing a dozen or half a dozen eggs.

The Great Egg Scare – which had echoes of the hysteria that greeted Edwina Currie's remarks in 1988 that most British egg production was infected with salmonella – began with an exclusive in The Mail on Sunday.

On Sunday its front-page story was headlined: "EU to ban selling eggs by the dozen: Shopkeepers' fury as they are told all food must be weighed and sold by the kilo."

The story began: "British shoppers are to be banned from buying eggs by the dozen under new regulations approved by the European Parliament. For the first time, eggs and other products such as oranges and bread rolls will be sold by weight instead of by the number contained in a packet."

According to the paper, MEPs had ended a British opt-out from EU rules forbiding the selling of goods by quantity, meaning that instead of packaging telling shoppers a box contains six eggs, it would show the weight the eggs in grams.

Promising a fight-back from the Food Standards Agency, the paper reported: "It could be the first test of David Cameron's pre-Election promise to stand up for Britain's interests in the EU."

The Federation of Bakers warned, though, that it might be too late to save the sale of "six bread rolls".

Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer magazine, railed at the stupidity. "You couldn't make it up, could you?" he said. "It would be funny if it were an April Fool's joke. But it's not and it will potentially cost the industry millions, while confusing customers no end. The EU's attempt to simplify labelling has created a multi-headed monster."

Even the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, was drawn into the row, saying in a statement. "This goes against common sense," she protested.

"Shopkeeping is a long standing British tradition and we know what customers want. They want to buy eggs by the dozen and they should be allowed to – a point I shall be making clear to our partners in Europe."

But the story was not what it seemed. It arose from an EU shake-up of food labelling, which defeated the traffic lights scheme backed by health campaigners, but tightened the law on country of origin, and cleared up other matters, such as the mandatory labelling of trans-fat and the weight of foods.

No one noticed – apart from the European Parliament – that the weight rule would not ban other forms of description, such as quantity.

Egg packs will have to state the weight, but can carry on being sold and labelled in half-dozens and dozens.

MEP Renate Sommer, who is steering the food labelling laws through the Parliament, was unequivocal. "There will be no changes to selling foods by number," she said.

"Selling eggs by the dozen, for example, will not be banned."

The European Consumers' Organisation said the scare, coming on top of claims from Italian chocolate giant Ferrero Rocher that Nutella would have to carry a health warning, was rooted in misinformation.

A spokesman said: "Much of the European media are now starting to see both the extent and inaccuracy of a lot of the information we were seeing given to MEPs before this major Parliament vote.

"The 'banning of half a dozen eggs' is a perfect example. Not only is it a simply inaccurate scare story which has been widely published, but it hugely distracts from the real issue. The vote was primarily about traffic light labelling and how to ensure more accurate information to consumers, yet it was contorted into a vote on labelling foods as 'dangerous' or banning sale by the dozen."

Great Euro myths...

The sky's the limit

Ukip politician Nigel Farage claimed the EU Single European Sky agreement prevented Britain from lifting a no-fly zone during volcanic ash cloud in April. In fact, it was up to individual countries and several EU states lifted restrictions before the UK. The Civil Aviation Authority said: "Nigel Farage obviously hasn't got any knowledge of aviation."

Pick of the crop

In 1995, the Ministry of Agriculture took issue with a shipment of strawberries on the grounds they were too square. Workers in Hull picked out the mis-shapen fruit and returned 880 punnets to Spain. While the EU specified that Class I strawberries should be oval, the punnets could have been sold unclassified. It was suggested the inspector had been over-zealous in interpreting European rules.

Pounds and pints

Fresh fruit and veg must be sold in kilos and grams under EU rules, but prices may also be marked up in pounds and ounces. Shoppers can still ask for "two pounds of potatoes". Britain has an unlimited opt-out for miles and pints. Three years ago the EU said: "There is not now and never will be any requirement to drop imperial measurements."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Sport
football
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk