In the dark corridors of the EU Customs Committee a grim battle is being fought for the right to call a sauce a sauce.
Who: The EU Customs Committee, Nestlé, Mars, Heinz and Unilever
When: Since December 2001
Big food brands Nestlé, Mars, Heinz and Unilever have gone into action, with the help of PR consultancy GPlus Europe, to fight to describe a sauce as a sauce. The source of the problem is "European Commission Regulation (EEC) No 2204/1999 of 12 October 1999 amending Annex I to Council Regulation (EEC) No 2658/87 on the tariff and statistical nomenclature and on the Common Customs Tariff." Behind this barrage of verbiage cowers an obscure piece of legislation with a considerably less obscure end result. At "Additional Note" 1 to point 3 of Miscellaneous Edible Preparations Chapter 21 lurks the following: "the expression sauces does not cover a preparation of vegetables, food or other edible parts of plants if the percentage of these ingredients passing through a metal wire sieve, with an aperture of 5mm, is, after rinsing with water of a temperature of 20° C, less than 80% by weight, calculated on the original preparation".
What does all this mean? It means that non-carnivorous sauces cannot be described as "sauces" if they are more than 20% lumps. What’s more, tariffs of nearly 300% can be imposed on "sauces" whose lumps are too big, whilst only a 20% tariff applies to sauces of which 20% or less is lumps.
In January 2002, a meeting of the EU Customs Committee was due to debate the issue and the possibility of amending the rule. The change might lead to the lump threshold rising to 30% and still allow the product to be described as a "sauce". But even this was regarded as insufficient by the likes of Nestlé, Mars, Heinz and Unilever, and with the help of GPlus Europe a vociferous PR campaign was launched. This led to a postponement of the January Committee meeting to February. We will have to wait and see whether the crusade for sensible sauce rules succeeds.
Why this matters:
There are already comprehensive UK food labelling regulations which, to a greater or lesser extent, impose controls on the descriptors that can be used for various foods in advertising. Although neither major fines nor terms of imprisonment may lay in wait for labellers or advertisers who negligently use the term "sauce" against the legal requirements, it can be seen that a slip of this kind can give rise to serious and costly consequences in terms of customs tariffs. It is to be hoped that the current PR campaign will be successful, but for the moment the rules stay as they are. This means that all those contemplating use of the term "sauce" in packaging or advertising should have their sieves readily to hand before going into production!