Paternal in spirit and pedantic in fact, the food Gestapo always knows best. The storyline is invariably the same: Agenda-driven food regulation is rammed through in the name of progress and public health. And when anyone dares to protest or question the tactics, the Gestapo pulls out its trump card mantra — “consumer protection.” Advance the latest inane regulation and then hide from criticism by retreating behind the “consumer protection” shield.
But sometimes the stars of reason line up and even the food Gestapo tires of defending the indefensible. On May 16, an EU committee, despite a dragging economic crisis in Europe, outlawed refillable olive oil jugs and dipping bowls on restaurant tables. As explained in the Telegraph, “The use of classic, refillable glass jugs or glazed terracotta dipping bowls and the choice of a restaurateur to buy olive oil from a small artisan producer or family business will be outlawed.”
The committee diktat decreed that by Jan. 1, 2014, all olive oil served in any restaurant in Europe would be from pre-packaged, factory bottles. (The packaging would of course be eco-friendly and include a mandatory labeling sticker.) Olive oil is indeed frequently plagued by adulteration and counterfeiters; but the committee had acted strictly on anecdotal evidence and without any measure of public will. The committee conveniently made no mention of refillable wine jugs or vinegar bottles —only olive oil. Wine and vinegar — OK; olive oil — verboten.
A Telegraph editorial responded with a wry observation: “It also says something about the size and ambition of the European Union that it now takes an interest in how people put oil on their bread. This is reminiscent of the EU’s regulations against bendy bananas and crooked cucumbers, as well as its convoluted attempts to define the precise contents of a Cornish pastry. In 2011, the EU even ruled that bottled water manufacturers could no longer advertise that their product prevents dehydration.”
But the committee’s road to olive oil fiat came to a screeching halt just days later. On May 22, following howls of protest and derision from a disbelieving public, Dacian Ciolos, the EU commissioner for agriculture, hit the kill-switch: “It was a measure intended to help consumers, to protect and inform them, but it is clear that it cannot attract consumer support.”
For once, the bureaucrats had to back down. But given time, the food Gestapo will lick its wounds and be back with the next round of “consumer protection.”
The food Gestapo will carry on as the gatekeeper of what should be on your table and no food detail is too small or obscure for the masters of minutiae.
“This is exactly the sort of thing that Europe shouldn't even be discussing,” said UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
“It shouldn't be on the table."
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