According to a report in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, the EU is about to propose the scrapping of ‘best before’ dates on long-life food items. Soon, consumers may be left to their own devices on whether coffee, rice, dry pasta and various other items should be eaten or not.
This is a sensible move. It’s probably better to judge the state of food for ourselves than ignore the evidence from our eyes and noses in favour of a packet-front date whose meaning is often misunderstood. ‘Best before’ is no indication of food safety, simply a guide to how long a manufacturer thinks a particular item will be in tip-top condition. But the confusion is, apparently, a significant source of food waste. According to Sharon Dijksma, the Dutch agriculture minister, 15 per cent of food waste is due to expiry dates on packaging, which in the long run costs shoppers money.
Environmentalists will no doubt be delighted that this confusing, pointless and costly system of labelling will soon be greatly scaled back. Think of the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with producing all that grub that we then foolishly bin because a label has convinced us it’s not fit to eat!
The trouble is, environmentalists are all too happy to play on consumer fears and misunderstood labels in other areas. That’s why greens in the US have been pushing hard to have foods containing genetically modified ingredients labelled as such. This, however, is about ‘consumer choice’, they say.
Bullshit. It’s quite obvious that GM-hating greens want labelling so that consumers will be put off buying such products. Or, more precisely, that manufacturers and retailers will shun GM products on the off chance that enough shoppers will avoid GM-labelled foods to make a serious dent in food companies’ profits. That’s exactly what happened when the EU introduced compulsory labelling of GM products - they swiftly disappeared from the shelves. So much for choice.