Have you heard of them?…..well…Boris wishes his readers a berry merry Christmas!
We banned a berry – and it took Brussels to stop us being so silly
By Boris Johnson
And while we are on the subject of demented British regulation, and this Government’s lust to interfere in every aspect of our daily lives, let us not forget the breakfast habits of Mr Ron Jones, of Chinnor, in the beautiful county of Oxfordshire, and the insane, costly and ultimately abortive attempts to stop him eating a particular type of berry.
You may not have heard of a saskatoon, and nor, frankly, had I. But Mr Jones is widely travelled, and had come across this odd purple fruit in Canada. He put it in his mouth, as the Indians have done in those parts for thousands of years. He chewed. He was hooked. I hope I don’t misrepresent him if I say that he became this country’s leading saskatoon fanatic, and who can blame him?
You may not have been aware that the saskatoon is to berries as the Cohiba is to cigars. It is the king of the bush. It is used all over Canada to make jams, syrups, salad dressings and even crème brulée. According to some bumf I have from the Canadian High Commission, it is standard practice, at all Canadian state banquets, to sprinkle every course with saskatoons. When one contemplates the volcanic energy of this century’s great Canadians, from Mark Steyn to Conrad Black to Margaret Trudeau, one can only ascribe it to the saskatoon-based national diet.
The saskatoon (Amelanchier ainifolia) is also known as the juneberry, serviceberry or shadberry and grows on tall bushes in northwest Canada. It is related to the rose family, and can be used to make all sorts of things, including saskatoon cider, not least because it has sensational nutritional characteristics. For instance, it has 84.84 calories per 100g, compared with a piffling 51 Ca for blueberries, 37 for strawberries and 49 for raspberries. It has more protein, more carbohydrate, three times as much Vitamin C, far more potassium, more fibre and more iron than any of these rival berries.
And it has less fat. It is a miracle fruit, and when, in February this year Mr Jones saw it on the shelves at his local supermarket, he gave a hymn of thanks to globalisation, and for three blissful months he had barely a saskatoon-free day.
Alas, he had underestimated the vengeful meddlesomeness of the bureaucrats. It turns out, of course, that there is a law against this sensible exercise of free trade, whereby British people can eat at breakfast what their kith and kin enjoy in Canada. It is called the Novel Foods Regulation (EC 258/97), and it came into force in this country in 1997, and means that you cannot expect the authorities to accept that a food is safe, just because the Canadian population swears by it.
Oh, no. That’s not good enough. Under the Novel Foods Regulation, anything new to the EU market must undergo at least two years of tedious tests and safety demonstrations before it can be put on the shelves. As it happened, the original importers of the saskatoons just ignored this regulation, because it was obviously absurd, and that is how Mr Jones came to find the berries in his supermarket.
What seems to have happened then is that someone sneaked to the authorities. There are companies that specialise in helping firms overcome demented anti-berry regulations, and it seems that the saskatoon importers made the mistake of ignoring them. These saskatoons are just like blueberries, the importers told the Customs people; just a sort of Canadian blueberry. Oh no they’re not, said the middlemen, angry at losing some business: they are related to the rosehip! Nothing like a blueberry! They are a Novel Food!
And they reported the arrival of the saskatoon to that new and ludicrous body, the Food Standards Agency. In May, the 550 bureaucrats of the Food Standards Agency launched a vicious anti-saskatoon sweep of Britain, and the berry was cleared from the shelves. Mr Jones was indignant; he wrote to me; I wrote to the Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture, and the Food Standards Agency, and I have a full set of preposterous letters telling me that no, sorry, the berry is illegal in Britain, and will be for as long as two years while tests are conducted to find out whether the population of Canada is right in thinking it to be edible, and that is all there is to it.
That’s right: this berry is now banned. It’s as illegal as heroin. It is only thanks to the bravery of the importers, J. O. Sims of Spalding. Lincolnshire, that I have on my desk some of the contraband berries. They are by no means fresh, and have shrivelled to the size of blackcurrants, and as I munch them now I pick up only a suggestion of the flavour that must have entranced Mr Jones (likened, when newly picked, to a mixture of almonds and cherries).
Pathetic though these relics are, they could still in theory be seized by Food Standards agents in black pyjamas crashing through my windows. But the final absurdity is that the FSA fatwa is about to be unexpectedly overturned – not by Parliament, but by Brussels!
The other day the German government decided that there was nothing wrong with the berries, and that the Finns had been eating them for yonks, and under basic EU single market principles, the saskatoon is therefore deemed fit for consumption in all member states, Britain included. In other words, the FSA ban has been rendered meaningless, at which moment you may ask yourselves, what is the point of this agency, invented by Labour in 2001, with its 550 officials paid for by the taxpayer? What do we pay them for, when their cretinous bans can be undone by the good sense of the Germans? What is the point of them?
The answer is there is no point. But if you want to understand how Labour has created 530,000 jobs in the public sector, and squandered untold billions in the enforcement of vexatious regulation, remember how they tried to ban the saskatoon. A berry Christmas to all my readers!