Over the weekend, we saw near uproar in parts of the media over a supposed plot by the Brussels bureaucrats to ban kebabs. Screaming headlines in various newspapers would have had us believe that EU Supremo Jean Claude Juncker and his officials were hatching a secret plot to banish one of our favourite late night snacks.
Whilst I can just about manage to ignore most of the fake news we see written about the EU, I cannot let this one go. Like many others, I love a good kebab. If the EU was about to ban this dish, I would be the first up on my feet in the European Parliament ready to lead the charge against any such plan. Except of course, there is no such plan.
Unfortunately, the more sober and boring reality is that these recent stories have been a long way from what is actually happening. What these claims instead relate to is the fact that last week the European Parliament’s Health Committee, of which I am a member, disagreed with a proposal from the Commission to allow phosphate additives to be added to kebab meat.
What seems to have been missed in these news stories is the important fact that these additives are already illegal under current EU law. As such, the European Parliament position is simply to continue with the status quo, which is to not allow the use of these phosphate-based additives in our kebabs.
This position is sensible for two reasons. Firstly, these additives are currently not allowed for public health reasons. The European Food Safety Authority has not yet decided whether or not these additives are safe to consume, their study on this is expected to report next year.
Secondly, it is important for our consumer rights. These additives could be used for meat fraud. Phosphate has water-binding properties and could be used to increase the weight of meat, intentionally misleading consumers by selling meat with its weight artificially inflated with what is in effect water. Back in 2013, we saw a scandal where UK supermarkets were found to be selling frozen chicken that was in fact up to 20% water. At a time when household budgets are stretched, with supermarket prices going up, this cannot be allowed to happen again.
Rest assured, the EU or the European Parliament is not trying to ban kebabs. Millions of kebabs are sold each week in the UK under these current regulations. This is a typical example of how important work in the European Parliament to protect consumers and health can become skewed (or perhaps I should say skewered…).
With the Government’s Brexit chaos dominating headlines in Britain, some will say literally anything to undermine the European Union. I for one will not let one of our favourite takeaways become a political football in this way.
Rory Palmer is Labour MEP for the East Midlands.