In my world: the plant baker

29 May, 2008
Page 22 
== John Foster - Fosters Bakery Fosters Bakery, based in Barnsley, south Yorkshire, supplies fresh and frozen products to major retailers, airlines and caterers ==
It's official; the 'powers that be' think British people are stupid compared to our European neighbours! Well, they do when it comes to nutritional labelling of food to tackle unhealthy eating.The EU is advocating a Europe-wide system of a monochrome GDA (Guideline Daily Amounts) for fat, sugar and salt, together with how the food inside the wrapper compares. But, once again, Britain prefers its own different and more stringent requirement - in this case multi-coloured traffic lights.It is important to tell consumers that a cream cake is less healthy than the wholemeal crispbread and that it's good to allow consumers to differentiate between wholemeal crispbreads too. But why do we Brits have to have a different, more costly system of telling people than the rest of the world? This is just the latest extra burden that British food producers have to bear over and above our EU competitors.Pig farmers, too, point to higher animal welfare requirements in the UK that put them at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the EU. I'll get too upset if I dwell on the wooden benches that I burned, now proven to have been safe all along (as the rest of the EU told us), or the plastic wall panels that we were forced to use, later proven to be a fire hazard.A standard close to my heart - and, according to Mrs Foster, possible heart attack - is the British Retail Consortium Global food standard. We've had Grade A for years, so I'm not moaning that it's too high to pass, but the equivalent ISO standard is not as stringent. The same is true over health & safety. European machinery, despite it being CE safety-marked, has to be extra guarded, and a bit more expensive, in the UK than in the rest of the EU. Last year, I did my Institute of Directors diploma and we discussed management accounting systems. I explained our system to fellow students, who then considered it too simplistic to effectively manage a company. I felt a tad inadequate until the eminent professor leading the session remarked that my systems were remarkably close to Scandinavian norms, as used by the likes of Ikea and Nokia, and, in his opinion, much more effective than the British way.Drip, drip, drip: our competitiveness is being eaten away on irrelevances. No single aspect is that over-onerous; it's just that British producers seem to have to (or want to) go that extra mile each and every time. Add it all together and conspiracy theorists might suspect someone in authority here is working for a foreign country's development agency on some plot to frustrate our industry.Can we just stop placing that extra bit of burden on UK food producers? That should give us the time and resources to pay more attention to the environmental side of life, where Britain, for once, is way behind its EU neighbours - and sadly failing.



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