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Rees-Mogg’s claims take the biscuit

by Jack Schickler | 01.02.2016

Readers of The Mail on Sunday could be forgiven for thinking the European Union is about to ban custard creams. It carried a report on an “EU war on our biscuits”, with a picture of what is perhaps Britain’s most popular biscuit, adding that Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg would be heroically defending the great British snack.

This sounds worrying. There’s nothing as British as tea and a biscuit. But it is actually Rees-Mogg and his fellow eurosceptics who are going crackers.

The Mail on Sunday and Rees-Mogg are in a tizzy over “trans fats”. These are artificially created fats often linked to heart disease. The health issues they pose have raised concern from bodies like the the UK Food Standards Agency and the British Heart Foundation. The US has imposed legal limits on their use.

A European Commission report last December did indeed look into trans fats. Of the five policy options considered, the report concludes that “a legal limit… would be the most effective measure in terms of public health, consumer protection and compatibility with the internal market”. However, it will undertake further analysis (including a consultation and impact assessment) before committing to any course of action. In any case, the proposal under question is for a limit, not a ban.

Even if the EU did go ahead, it would not significantly affect the UK. The government reports that 70% of the retail and manufacturing market have already committed to removing or not using trans fats. This includes all major British supermarket own-brand products, as well as United Biscuits (makers of, among other things, Crawford’s Custard Creams). A cross-country academic study did not find a single high-trans fat product for sale in major UK supermarkets, though there were a lot for sale in places like Serbia and Montenegro. So, unless a UK consumer has a particular taste for products imported from the Balkans, he or she is unlikely to notice the difference if limits were imposed.

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Rees-Mogg, contacted by InFacts, claimed that “this is clearly a proposal to ban trans fats and it would be dishonest to deny it”. When asked to provide an example of a British product that might be under threat by the supposed ban, he did not respond.

All in all, this biscuit “ban” is a storm in a teacup.

Edited by Hugo Dixon