A European Union subsidy system that encourages the consumption of butterfat has been attacked by the EU’s financial watchdog – the European Court of Auditors – for failing in its key task to create demand for quality EU-made butter.

By allowing money to be spent on cheap and imported butter, the court has found that “the impact of the measures has been reduced.” Only 65 per cent of butter in the EU is sold at market prices, with the scheme costing Euro 600 million a year, affecting 500,000 tonnes of butter.

Its report recommends that “the current tendering procedures should be revised and aid progressively reduced and concentrated only on quality non-imported butterfat’s used for products where it is likely that additional demand will in fact be created.”

It also suggests that the Commission should also consider alternative aid schemes designed to encourage demand for non-subsidised butter, or if this fails, to limit the supply of butter.

Pastry and ice-cream products accounted for 87 per cent of expenditure in 1998, so the report said: “For croissants and ice cream, which are among the most important products in which aided butter is incorporated, EU aid has a limited effect on retail prices of end products and therefore on overall demand from final consumers.

“Although disposal measures are less expensive than intervention and export refunds, this comparison is only valid if additional demand is created. However, there is some evidence showing that a substantial proportion of butter disposed of with EU aid would have been consumed anyway.”

The Court of Auditors recommended that “the current tendering procedures should be revised and aid progressively reduced and concentrated only on quality non-imported butterfat’s used for products where it is likely that additional demand will in fact be created.”

The report also attacked the European Commission for failing to collate “information, analysis or detailed studies on their impact,” adding that the “justification for the introduction of disposal measures rests on the creation of additional demand.”

One possibility discussed was the use of tracer additives to subsidised products, to make controls on their final use more reliable. “However, according to an expert’s opinion, some of the substances give rise to a health risk,” said the report. It said that the Commission “should take measures to ensure that tracers undergo prior testing and approval and that their presence is declared on the packaging of products.”

It pointed out that the whole scheme had been introduced on a temporary basis, but butter disposal measures had become permanent schemes despite the introduction of milk quotas in 1984.

Honey

The EU Council of Ministers has voted to prevent Member States from authorising the marketing of industrial honey – used as glazes on bakery products – as “honey.” In future it is expected that they will have to use the terms “industrial or baker’s honey.”

This follows the agreement of a directive reforming Directive 74/409/EEC on the composition and labelling of honey products. The new directive also insists that that the country of origin is indicated on a label for honey made outside the EU.

Also, another change in labelling laws will insist that clear purified honey that is popular in the UK, US and Ireland, should be marked as “filtered,” setting it apart from unprocessed products containing pieces of honeycomb, which are more popular on the continent of Europe.

The proposals are part of a move by the European Commission for greater harmonisation across the EU concerning methods of analysis for verification of quality specifications for honey. They have to discuss for a second time by the European Parliament, before they can become European Union law.

Nonetheless Secretary of the Honey Association Walter Anzar questioned whether these regulatory changes were worth the trouble. “It’s ridiculous to rewrite the directive,” he told just-food.com. “It’s a waste of time.”

His laissez faire attitude has not been shared by MEP‘s, some of whom have even – unsuccessfully – sought to outlaw the use of “the homely term ‘baker’s honey’ to designate “industrial honey.” A report to parliament said that this was because “it is a product with a foreign taste or odour and different specifications,” compared with regular honey.