Thursday, July 18, 2019

Boris serves kippers & red herrings as Brexit becomes a dog's breakfast

It's often the case that those proposing to leave the EU cite interference with unnecessary rules, regulations and directives. Boris Johnson in an address to Tory party members claimed that EU rules forced a kipper supplier in the Isle of Man was required by EU directives to include a "plastic ice pillow" in the package before being dispatched [BBC]. Meanwhile a caller to LBC's James O'Brien show claimed the EU was responsible for banning the practice of wrapping fish and chips in old newspapers.

These are just two examples of lies and half truths that are rarely scrutinised or challenged. Boris Johnson's example was entirely erroneous.

Sky News Brussels correspondent Mark Stone described it as, "Multiple layers of nonsense" given that the Isle of Man is not in the EU, the regulation was not an EU directive and was in fact a British rule. EU sources later insisted that rules that required smoked kipper producers in the Isle of Man to use a "plastic ice pillow" when sending to UK, as made famous by Boris Johnson, were in fact BRITISH rules and not Brussels' rules. In fact the EU does not regulate sales of smoked fish to consumer, only sale of fish from business to business. The Isle of Man example is outside scope of EU food safety rules and while the EU has broad rules saying that food should be safe it has nothing to say concerning the use of an ice pillow. Indeed, this is a British addition designed to stop Listeria [Twitter / Guardian].

As regards the woman and her assertion that the EU had stopped her enjoying fish and chips in newspaper, she is both right and wrong.

In 1976 the European Council put forward a directive that may have brought about the end of fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, though it was in fact UK law that stopped the practice.

Food contact materials, or FCMs, are widely used in everyday life in the form of food packaging, kitchen utensils, tableware, etc. When put in contact with food, the different materials may behave differently and transfer their constituents to the food. Thus, if ingested in large quantities, FCM chemicals might endanger human health, or change the food itself. Therefore, food contact materials are subject to legally binding rules at EU level, currently laid down in Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 which aims at ensuring FCM safety.

Of course, there are many people who feel nostalgic about fish and chips wrapped in the previous day's newspapers. But the practice may well have died out anyway as paper shops often returned papers on a SoR [Sale or Return] basis.

The practice of wrapping goods in newspaper survived until as late as the 1980s when it was ruled unsafe for food to come into contact with newspaper ink without grease-proof paper in between. Indeed vendors could still use newspaper as outer wrappings, but since old newspapers are returned to distributors shops would not find it easy to obtain them today.

There are many things people feel nostalgic about. But is that to say we should bring them back? Many things that were once commonplace have been banned on safety grounds or because certain practices are no longer practical.

We  might look back with happy memories of using hop on/hop off buses and slam door trains. But how many people suffered serious injury misusing them. Being hit by an open door on a moving train is certainly not funny. Neither is having a passenger flying at you as they misjudge their disembarking from a moving bus.

Whilst many smokers might lament the banning of smoking in public places, especially pubs, few would want to return to the days when one could light up on trains, buses, planes and even in supermarkets.

Some laws banning things from everyday life might be considered Health and Safety gone bad by some, but the dangers of some things removed from schools and places of work are entirely sensible. Anyone growing up in the 1970s will probably remember asbestos mats that were placed under Bunsen burners in the science classroom. Now we know better about the risks that asbestos poses to health. Lead too was commonplace in everything from paint to petrol. But both EU and British regulations have forced a change in the way we do things. In 1978 the US banned the use of lead in paint that was used on toys and similar regulations gradually came into force in Britain and across the EU. Without such regulations children might well be exposed to dangerous elements such as lead, cadmium and even arsenic which were common in plastic toys made in the 1970s and 1980s.

With regards food, regulations are usually applied in order to prevent leaching of potentially dangerous chemicals into food or to prevent the spoiling of food. However, it takes time to bring new regulations into force. BPA, or bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s, is widely considered to pose a health threat. Under Plastics Regulation (EU) No 10/2011, the new BPA Regulation reduces the SML for BPA from 0.6 mg/kg to 0.05 mg/kg and expands the ban on the use of BPA in the manufacture of polycarbonate infant feeding bottles to sippy cups. However it is not banned entirely. The same is true as regards phthalates which are legally used in food packaging, though their use is restricted in the EU. Phthalates, which can leach into food from the plastic containers, are widely considered to cause damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.

Would the lady who looked back nostalgically at eating fish and chips from newspaper be as angry at EU regulations tightening up regulations concerning plastics in our food?

Of course toxicity is a relative term. Apple pips are poisonous, but you'd need to eat at least 200, and chew them well, to kill you. That said,  fish and chips wrapped in paper that is coated with ink containing 2-naphthylamine and 4-aminobiphenyl which studies have linked the ink to bladder and lung cancers hardly sounds appetising. It is probably true that you'd likely have to eat a great deal of fish and chips wrapped in an old copy of The Times to create any adverse effects. But is it not better to err on the side of caution?

tvnewswatch, London, UK