British shoppers will no longer be able to buy eggs by the dozen under new regulations approved by the European Parliament. For the first time, eggs and other products including oranges and bread rolls—will be sold by weight instead of by the number contained in a packet.
Eggs have traditionally been sold by the dozen or half-dozen because the old imperial measurements such as inches or pennies were calculated in groups of 12. But the new rules, to be introduced next year, mean that instead of packaging telling shoppers a box contains six eggs, it will show the weight in grams of the eggs inside.
An FSA [Food Standards Agency] spokeswoman said: "This proposal would disallow selling by numbers. Retailers would not be allowed to put "Six eggs" on the front of the box. If it was a bag of rolls, it would say "500g" instead of six rolls."
This is utter idiocy: who gives a crap what weight the eggs are? I want six eggs, not the exact bloody weight.
Apart from anything else, this has no benefit to the consumer: does it give me more information about the eggs? Not really—some might have thicker shells than others, thus ensuring that I have no real information about the quality or otherwise of the eggs.
Does it take information away from me? Yes: because now I cannot know, without opening the box, how many eggs are in it.
Does this measure have any benefit to the consumer at all? No. It's just harmonisation for the sake of it.
In fact, it actively harms the consumer because the eggs will cost more. Why?
Well, I would imagine that selling a 500g box of eggs that does not, in fact, contain 500g of produce is illegal under Trading Standards. So now the egg producers are going to have to weigh each and every box, and stamp the exact weight on each box. Not only will they have to buy the stamping equipment (because you can bet your bottom dollar that just writing the weight on is not legal: they even have to stamp each individual egg now, for fuck's sake) but it is also labour-intensive.
To adapt a classic Daily Mail phrase, it's bureaucracy gone mad.
To be fair to that paper (much as I hate to do so), whilst it confirms the Scotsman's story, the Mail does point out that these laws are very far from being decided.
‘It is important that information is provided in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to consumers. This issue is still being considered by EU member states and it will be some time before the regulation is finalised.’
... says the woman from the FSA. However...
Experts say it will be next year before the EU is able to pass the controversial measure, which bureaucrats say is designed to help consumers make an informed choice when buying their food because it will require suppliers to provide more comprehensive information.
But last night, food industry experts said the EU plan was ‘bonkers’ and ‘absolute madness’.
Federation of Bakers director Gordon Polson warned that it may be too late to change the rules, even though they will be debated further in the European Parliament.
He revealed that lobbyists had already tried to rectify the regulations, discovered in the 174 pages of amendments to the initial 75-page proposal, but there was not enough time to convince MEPs before the crucial vote.
The fact that one would need to lobby MEPs in order to convince them of the idiocy of this law is, in itself, a damning indictment of the sheer, brutal stupidity of our representatives. However, the EU voting system—in which legislation is voted on in "blocks"—also won't help. This law will go through.
Unless, of course, this is all a cunning plan by the Tories, to feed newspapers a story about an utterly ridiculous EU law which was never going to pass anyway, and then paint themselves as "tough on the EU" when it is voted down. Or am I crediting Dave with too Machiavellian a mind?
In any case, there is a wider point to be emphasised here, and we may as well use a snippet from The Mail's article to lead us into it.
The move could cost retailers millions of pounds because of changes they will have to make to packaging and labelling, as well as the extra burden of weighing each box of food before it is put on sale.
The cost is likely to be passed on to shoppers through higher grocery bills.
The cost is "likely" to be passed on through higher bills? No, the cost will be passed on through higher bills, just as all of the costs of EU regulations are passed onto consumers through higher bills.
And this is, of course, the problem—a problem which I have decided to illustrate pictorially.
- The first graph shows the proportion of our exports that go to the EU, and to the rest of the world. Whoa! 50% of our exports are to the EU? That's a pretty big chunk.
- The next graph shows the proportion of UK businesses that must abide by all EU laws, whether they trade with the EU or not.
All of these regulations cost time, money and effort to implement—and so the costs are passed onto the consumer. Not only that, the costs of ensuring that these regulations are being followed—all of those inspectors and suchlike—are undertaken by the UK government, so we consumers pay again in tax.
But why should 100% of businesses have to obey these EU regulations—after all, only 50% of British businesses actually deal with the EU. Isn't that right?
- Well, no—that's wrong. Only 50% of our exports are to the EU: the vast majority of trade within the UK is internal. In other words, the vast majority of businesses never trade abroad at all.
This final graph shows the rough breakdown of the UK economy. As you can see, trade to the EU accounts for only 10% of the total, 80% of the trade is internal and trade to the rest of the world is another 10%.
And yet, as you'll remember from the pretty graphs, 100% of businesses must comply with EU rules—with all of the associated regulatory costs that that entails.
Now, to be fair to the EU, our own Ministries are very good at "gold-plating" (that is, adding in their own little madnesses to) EU Directives. But, if the EU did not force this crap on us, then our snivelling, cowardly civil servants wouldn't be able to hide behind the EU fig-leaf: their own pusillanimous, interfering, cost-inducing evil would be plain to see.
I believe that this, as much as anything, is one of the reasons why government is so pro-EU: it allows them to conceal their own petty vindictiveness and mismanagement by pointing the finger at the EU.
Anyway, all of this has a cost—it's difficult to know how much of a cost, but it is certainly in the range of tens of billions of pounds. All of which gets passed onto us in the form of higher prices and higher taxes.
Not only that, of course, but the EU stops us doing more trade with the rest of the world—through two main mechanisms.
First, the EU controls all trade beyond its borders and it has a tendency to put tariff barriers up against other nations—usually to protect EU-based firms (the big firms, the ones that can afford to lobby the EU bureaucrats). A classic example of this is the fact that there is a 66% import tax on energy-saving lightbulbs from China: this was imposed (and renewed last year) after heavy lobbying by German Siemens and Dutch Philips.
Now, this makes us poorer again—we are having to pay 66% more for an energy-saving lightbulb than we might.
However, in retaliation, non-EU countries then tend to put up tariff barriers against EU goods (and point out to their workers that the reason that they aren't selling more light-bulbs in the Eu is because the EU has erected tariff barriers).
The result? Everyone is poorer.
Second, of course, the high costs of regulation mean that British (and EU) businesses cannot compete so well abroad, as our products have an even higher cost than they otherwise would.
Now, Timmy would maintain that it is the imports that make us rich, and that exporting is just the tedious stuff we need to do in order to be able to afford the imports. And he'd be right.
But the point is that we do still need to export of we cannot afford the imports. If we export less, we end up owing other people a lot of money.
Plus, of course, all of this crap offends the sensibilities of a man like myself, who maintains that it is free trade that makes us rich and, as a result, that tariff-wielding organisations like the EU make everyone poorer—and ensuring that people are poorer means that you ensure that more people die unnecessarily.
So, whether or not this eggs and rolls story is true or not, can I join both my peripatetic Athenian friend and Timmy in saying "can we fucking well leave yet"?
Unio Europaea delenda est.
UPDATE: John Band has a good comment on this, as usual. It doesn't alter the main thrust of my argument though, which is that this is not free trade and the EU should be dismantled.
UPDATE 2: Nosemonkey also debunks some of the myths surrounding this matter, illustrating how this particular measure is actually about deregulation.
As a matter of fact, it is a result of reading Nosemonkey for some years that made me express some scepticism about this law; however, I believe that my wider points still stand.