Marmalade skies

Apparently, one of the bigger Brexiteer bugbears has been the belief that a Briton could be criminally prosecuted for breaking the EU directive on the production and sale of marmalade, jam and other preserves (Council Directive 2001/113/EC) – and, crucially, that leaving the EU would remove both the directive and the associated threat of prosecution. This subject came up in a comment thread at Crooked Timber a couple of days back.

For the sake of argument, let’s accept the risk of such prosecution as non-negligible. It is unlikely that leaving the EU will remove it. Solving this problem would require dismantling the British administrative state, which is not going to happen any time soon. (The UK may become a libertarian safe haven but only in a single, narrow sense, as a safe haven for dirty money, no questions asked.)

To begin with, the UK is not going to de-criminalize violations of its own food laws just because it’s no longer a EU member. You may want to check the archives of the British Food Journal for “food prosecutions”: they did not begin with the UK’s accession to the EU or even to the EEC.

More importantly, the 2001 “marmalade directive” was largely based on the 1979 Council Directive (79/693/EEC) of the European Economic Community, a free trade zone rather than a political union. Likewise, joining any major free trade block would require the UK to subscribe to a multitude of rules broadly similar to the “marmalade directive.”

Even more importantly (perhaps), the 1979 EEC directive incorporated certain key definitions from the UK’s very own Food Standards (Preserves) Order 1953. To get rid of its domestic regulations, the UK would have to roll back that piece as well as Food Standards (Table Jellies) 1949 and possibly a few other food-related acts from the 1940s. Restoring the pre-WWII status of food law, let’s face it, is about as likely as going back to the gold standard.

If anyone should think the 1953 Preserves Order was merely a statement of general principles, it’s probably worth quoting from it:

Marmalade shall contain a percentage of soluble solids of not less than 68½ per cent. unless packed in hermetically sealed containers when it shall contain not less than 65 per cent., and

(a) in the case of marmalade other than ginger marmalade the fruit content shall be not less than 20 per cent. citrus fruit;

(b) in the case of ginger marmalade the fruit content shall be not less than 25 per cent. drained ginger only or 25 per cent. drained ginger and citrus fruit but so that not less than 15 per cent. shall be drained ginger. “Drained ginger” means ginger (in syrup) drained free from syrup…

…No jam or marmalade shall contain any added acid other than citric, tartaric or malic acid.

The Order included similar prescriptions for jam, fruit curd and sweetmeat – a pretty hands-on approach to legislation for 1953: pre-EU, pre-EEC, passed by a Conservative government.

To quote Fruit Processing (1996), edited by D. Arthey and P. R. Ashurst:

Governing jams, jelly jams, marmalade, lemon curd and mincemeat at that time was the 1953 Preserves Order… which had replaced earlier (1944) legislation. This has, in turn, been replaced in the UK by the Jam and Similar Products Regulations (1981)… which enacted the EC Directive 79/693/EEC, and which has itself been amended by the EC Directive 88/593/EEC.

None of the statutes mentioned above are EU directives as the EU only came into existence in 1993.

Note that the UK’s 1953 jam rules were somewhat more restrictive than the 1979/81 EEC rules:

…[A] major difference between the 1953 and 1981 regulations is the prescribed content for total soluble solids. For “Jam,” the 1981 Regulations prescribe a minimum figure of 60% soluble solids (as measured by refractometer) compared with 65% (for an hermetically sealed container) and 68,5% (non-hermetically sealed) in the 1953 order.

On the other hand, also note that the 1979 EEC directive defined marmalade in the narrow British way, as opposed to the traditional Continental, especially German, understanding – in line with the 1953 Order:

5. Marmalade:

a mixture, brought to a suitable gelled consistency, of sugars and one or more of the following products obtained from citrus fruit: pulp, purée, juice, aqueous extracts and peel.

The quantity of citrus fruit used in the preparation of 1 000 g of finished product shall not be less than 200 g of which 75 g or more shall be obtained from the endocarp.

The 2001 EU directive defined marmalade in exactly the same way. In other words, at that time the UK had enough influence in Europe to protect its market from what it saw as Continental preserves misleadingly labeled as marmalade. Now that the UK is leaving the common European market, it’s doubtful that it would expose its domestic jam producers to renewed competition. If anything, I’d expect post-Brexit regulations to grow in complexity to better shield domestic producers, and pretty fast.

As a final aside, the word itself comes from “quince” and ultimately from “honey apple” rather than from anything citrus:

OFr marmelade < Port marmelada, orig., confection of quinces < marmelo, quince < L melimelum < Gr melimēlon, sweet apple < meli, honey (see mildew) + mēlon, apple

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