Too healthy to be “jam” or “ice cream”

Topic: Food

Who: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

When: 27 March 2013

Where: United Kingdom

Law stated as at: 28 March 2013

What happened:

Last year ITV created its “ITV News Business Club” and invited a panel of leading businessmen and women to meet with the Business Secretary, Vincent Cable, to discuss the UK economy and how it was affecting their businesses.

Jam manufacturer and entrepreneur Clippy McKenna was invited to participate and told the Business Secretary of her frustrations at being caught in an eighteen month battle with government officials regarding the sugar content of her products and whether she could call them “jams”.

She believed jam labelling regulations and government bureaucracy were holding back her business, at great cost, and the rules were preventing UK businesses from getting on with day-to-day business.

Mr Cable said he would look into it and declared a desire to stop the ‘sillier things’ that come out of Brussels.

The government has indeed since issued an announcement to confirm that a consultation has now been launched to review the Jam and Similar Products (England) Regulations 2003 (the “Regulations”).

These regulations govern the amount of sugar required in a conserve, jam or preserve to allow it to be labelled as a “Jam”.  The regulations contain bad drafting in places, which has led to a preserve with a sugar content of between 50% and 60% having no official legal name.  Applying the regulations literally, such a product cannot be called a jam or a conserve and so it has to be called a “fruit spread”.

The proposed amendments to the Regulations

The Government is considering revising the Regulations to lower the existing permitted soluble solids (sugar) level for jams and similar category products such as jellies and marmalades.

Flexibility provided within the current European rules on jams allows Member States to set lower soluble solids levels for jams in certain circumstances. Issues for the likes of Clippy McKenna have arisen as technological developments and the new use of fruits for jam making have allowed jams to be produced which meet the criteria for jam in all other aspects but which have a lower sugar content.

Other Members States have lowered their soluble solids level to 55% and the UK wants to take a similar stand.

The consultation invites those who may be affected by the proposals to consider at least the following ideas and feed into the decision making process:

1. Reducing the permitted % sugar levels for jams from 60% to 50%;

2. Reducing the permitted % sugar levels for jams from 60% to 55% but with an exemption for Bramley apple jams (which would be set to

3. Removing the current soluble solids requirements set for “reduced sugar” jams which are set between 25-50% and align this with broader “reduced sugar” definitions under health claims regulations;

4. Removing or amending the current national provisions relating to fruit curds and mincemeat.

And could ice cream be the subject of the next food review?

In a similar vein, the owner of two ice cream parlours in Bath has recently been instructed to stop referring to his homemade ice cream as “ice cream” by trading standards inspectors.

Why? Because it does not contain enough fat.

The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 state that ice cream has to have a minimum fat content of 5% but the Bath businessman’s traditional Italian method of using more milk than cream in production means the fat content of his product is 4.8%. So his product looks and tastes like ice cream but cannot be called such as it is mildly healthier than others on the market.

To comply with the regulations, he must either amend his recipe so that the product contains 0.2% more fat or rename their product as “gelato” on all price lists and marketing collateral.

Another example in the food industry where a manufacturer has been penalised rather than rewarded for making his product healthier for consumers!

Why this matters:

Most businesses will always welcome any changes to UK laws and regulations which minimise unnecessary “red tape” and harmonise the UK’s regulatory framework with those existing in neighbouring
European countries.

Manufacturers and food bodies will therefore welcome the opportunity to make a start on this with the revision of the Regulations.  In its consultation invitation, DEFRA has indicated that its preference for how the Regulations will be amended is to reduce the permitted % sugar levels for jams from 60% to 50% and remove the current soluble solids requirements set for “reduced sugar” jams.

DEFRA feels this gives both “the greatest level of flexibility for jam manufacturers, a reduced burden for businesses and government”.

Where consumers are concerned, changes to the Regulations will mean a more consistent use of product names with confusion
as to the mature of fruit spreads and conserves reduced.  Any interested parties should submit their responses to the consultation to DEFRA no later than 22 May 2013.

On the ice cream front, there is no sign so far of any such good sense

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