Jam row ‘a threat to breakfast’
Wednesday 30th October 2013, 12:10PM GMT.
The Government risks bringing an end to the traditional British breakfast if it allows manufacturers to sell jam without enough sugar, a Liberal Democrat MP said today.
Tessa Munt s aid the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) should not adopt new rules which will allow jam producers to call their fruit spreads jam even if they are only 50% sugar.
Ms Munt, who is parliamentary private secretary to Vince Cable, said this will mean they will be able to sell a “gloopy sludge” that resembles nothing like the traditional British staple.
She told MPs in a Westminster Hall debate that rules dating back to research in the 1920s meant that jam had to be at least 60% sugar to retain its gel-like quality.
Defra Minister George Eustice said “one impetus” for the change was an European Union “jam directive”. He said it permitted, but did not require, a sugar level lower than 60% to be set.
But Ms Munt said consumers would be left confused if producers were able to sell products labelled as jam when they were only 50% sugar as their consistency would be similar to inferior European fruit spreads that often “tasted like mud”.
She said: “I am concerned that this debate may herald the end of the British breakfast as we know it.
“Reducing permitted sugar levels from 60% to 50% would in time destroy the characteristic quality of British jams, jellies and marmalades, and could mislead consumers. We all know what we expect when we go to the supermarket: something of beautiful quality with beautiful colour, with a shelf life of about a year.
“If the total sugar percentage is reduced, the characteristic gel in the consistency of jams, jellies and marmalades will be lost, and the result will be a homogenised, spreadable sludge, bearing no resemblance to the product we know and enjoy in England as British jam.
“At a time when public attention is being directed to the content of food, it seems inadvisable to encourage the unnecessary production of food items with additives and artificial flavours. With a 60% sugar content, the colours of sweet preserves are bright and the fruit is fantastic.
“A lower percentage produces products with a darker, muddier colour, which may affect consumer confidence in a well known British product. In addition, if the consistency lacks the characteristic gel, and is more like that of a fruit spread or fruit butter, consumer confidence in the properties of jam and other products may be lost.”
She added: “We will end up exporting, and importing, more gloop, as opposed to having something that we all know well.
“British jam, jelly, marmalade, curds and mincemeat are completely classic British products. If we want to export them, we need to help people to do so, but we need to keep the quality and the standard of what we see on the British breakfast table.
“People know what they are buying. But if everything with a minimum sugar level of 50% and above can be called jam, there will be utter confusion about what is really jam and what is a fruit spread or whatever.
“We need that clarity for the British public’s attachment to jam and what it means. I have bought stuff from supermarket shelves that is like mud-it has lost its colour, it is not the right texture and it is a completely different product. All those products will be entitled to be called jam.”
Tory MP Priti Patel (Witham) said there was “no doubt” Britain made the best jams in the world, telling MPs businesses should be encouraged to export the spread.
But Mr Eustice said the Government was not dictating a maximum sugar content level and therefore the changes would not affect producers who wanted to continue making sweet jam.
He said: ” One impetus behind the change was a request by some in the industry for the UK to consider taking up an optional derogation in the EU jam directive that permits, but, crucially does not require, a sugar level lower than 60% to be set, which is something that a number of other member states have already done.
“The derogation allows member states to set a lower minimum sugar level for jam and similar products.
” If there were a maximum requirement requiring all jams to have 50% sugar we would be having a totally different discussion. We are discussing minimum requirements and giving the industry flexibility.
“Those who want to develop products with a lower sugar level that they can market in Europe will be able to do so.”