So this is Brexit, folks, where we fight over chickens and the provenance of salt and pepper

Morrisons has been punting a Union Jack emblazoned ‘oven ready’ (how appropriate), roast-in-the-bag ‘British chicken’, with ‘NON-EU SALT AND PEPPER’

Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 02 November 2021 11:42
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Morrisons supermarket agrees to £6.3bn takeover bid

Oh dear. Morrisons have got themselves into a bit of what you might call a chicken Twitter masala.

They’ve been punting a Union Jack emblazoned “oven ready” (how appropriate), roast-in-the-bag “British chicken”, with “NON-EU SALT AND PEPPER”. It looks as if the company has been taken over by mad Europhobes (in fact a US private equity outfit, but that’s another story). There was indeed a Twitter storm, with shoppers, not maybe from the key Morrisons demographic, begging the firm to say it ain’t so, and pledging never to darken their Brexity door again. That sort of thing.

It could hardly have been worse if they’d been selling packs of “Proud British Gammon” or joints of the “The Beef of Old England That Beat Nappy”, with a John Bull on the front. Just when you thought the cultural divisions over Brexit couldn’t get any worse, along comes corporate condiment fascism.

Now someone at Morrisons called Mark has said the wording on the package was “a mistake” for which they apologise. Classic worst of all worlds there, then, chickening out like that: upset the Remainers by tainting the chilled poultry counter with crude anti-European sentiment; provoke Leaver outrage by apologising for your simple avian patriotism.

Five years on from that momentous vote, the feathers are still flying, and over such poultry things. There do seem to be a lot more Union Jacks around the aisles these days, including in the (German-owned) Aldi and Lidl, and I think I’m right in saying someone was trying to sell Brussels Sprouts as British Sprouts not so long ago.

So Morrisons managed to stuff themselves on this occasion, but it does make one wonder about how our food will be sold in future, and the ubiquitous chicken is a fine example of that. If the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement requires accurate labelling, why can’t it just say where the ingredients are from, rather than where they’re not from? Unlike pondering which came first, the chicken or the egg, I’ve never spent much time considering where the salt and pepper on a prepared chicken might hail from, but I suppose we should be told, even if it might need an additional note that the black pepper in question is from India, and that, by the way, India is not in the EU, for the avoidance of confusion. It would make for quite big labels, I suppose.

On the other wing of the argument, isn’t “country of origin” labelling inherently discriminatory and chauvinistic? The Americans certainly think so. Their policy is that when our old friend the Yankee chlorinated chicken flies in to supply cheap, nutritious food for the undernourished British, there should be no clue as to its origins, and the US chicken should be able to compete on equal terms with its British counterpart, which, presumably, would mean the end of the “red tractor” system of farm assurance and the like. I’m not sure that idea will fly.

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One of the things that was supposed to be good about Brexit wasn’t that everything would be made here and everyone would buy British (because they won’t), but that British consumers could choose produce from all over the world, buying the best and the cheapest on world markets, cutting the price of the weekly shop and thus subduing inflation and raising the purchasing power of wages at a stroke.

It was supposed to mean more choice, not less, and the ability to set our own rules about food labelling and the like. It seems obvious that we should be able to have the information we need so that, for example, you can buy bananas from the Commonwealth island of St Lucia rather than, say, the Dominican Republic or Colombia, or your wine from Argentina rather than Australia, if Scott Morrison bothers you that much.

But this liberation of the consumer seems to be another Brexit benefit that has been pecked away at since the referendum. Clucking shame, eh?

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