Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Unbelievable: British health meddlers trying to cut the number of holes in fish-shop salt shakers

This might just be lucrative for the lawyers. When some keen eater of fish and chips dies prematurely, their relatives may find that people on salt-restricted diets actually die sooner. The council could then be up for compensation!

Pot-holed roads, crumbling schools, litter-strewn streets - there's no shortage of problem areas crying out for their attention. But councils believe they have found a better use for their money: reducing the number of holes in chip shop salt shakers. Research has suggested that slashing the holes from the traditional 17 to five could cut the amount people sprinkle on their food by more than half. And so at least six councils have ordered five-hole shakers - at taxpayers' expense - and begun giving them away to chip shops and takeaways in their areas.

Leading the way has been Gateshead Council, which spent 15 days researching the subject of salty takeaways before declaring the new five-hole cellars the solution. Officers collected information from businesses, obtained samples of fish and chips, measured salt content and `carried out experiments to determine how the problem of excessive salt being dispensed could be overcome by design'. They decided that the five-hole pots would reduce the amount of salt being used by more than 60 per cent yet give a `visually acceptable sprinkling' that would satisfy the customer.

The council commissioned Drywite Ltd - a catering equipment company based in the West Midlands - to make five-hole shakers and bought 1,000 of them at a cost of 2,000 pounds, giving them away to fast-food outlets in their areas. Drywite confirms that it has since received orders for the shakers from at least five other councils, including Rochdale Borough in Greater Manchester. Another giving the shakers away is Labour-controlled Middlesbrough Council, where the idea has run into fierce criticism.

Cllr Chris Hobson, leader of the Conservatives, said: `This is just silly, a total waste of money in an area where council tax is very high. I'm all for good health but do they really think they are going to stop people using as much salt simply by putting fewer holes in thecellar? They'll just shake it for longer.'

Beryl Scott, who owns the Chipchase Chippy in Linthorpe in the city, said a council worker had visited the previous week to explain the merits of less salty fish and chips. `He said he had a salt cellar with five holes to give me free. I thought it was a joke. It doesn't matter how many holes it has, people are going to put on as much salt as they want.' Another local chip shop owner, Carol Ackerman, who runs Carol's Plaice in the suburb of Acklam, said: `People will just put on more salt if they want more. `In fact, we have had some people unscrewing the lids to do so.'

Gateshead Council defended its decision. A spokesman said: `Research carried out by us discovered customers were often receiving huge quantities of salt with their fish and chips - up to half their daily allowance. The council was so disturbed it decided to commission a manufacturer to produce a salt shaker with fewer holes, which it distributed free to every fish and chip shop and hot food takeaway in Gateshead. `We believe the cost to be a small price to pay for potentially saving lives.'

The scheme is being promoted by the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services, which is responsible for ensuring councils follow food hygiene rules. A spokesman said: `Heart disease costs taxpayers 7billion a year so to say that projects such as this are a waste of money is mind-boggling.'


Rigid British bureaucrats force the destruction of perfectly good fruit

A wholesaler has been banned from selling a consignment of kiwi fruits because EU laws deemed them too small.

Tim Down, a market trader for 25 years, said he was not permitted even to give away the 5,000 Chilean fruits, each of which is about the size of a small hen's egg and weighs about 60g. Mr Down said his family run firm would lose several hundred pounds in sales because of the ban. "It is bureaucratic nonsense, they are perfectly fit to eat," Mr Down said at his stall at the Wholesale Fruit Centre in Bristol.

Inspectors from the Rural Payments Agency, an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), made a random check on his stall, and found a number of his kiwis weighed 58g, four grams below the required minimum of 62g.

Mr Down said that 4g in weight was the equivalent of about one millimeter in diameter. He said: "They (the inspectors) went through a lot of my stock using their own little scales. "These regulations are enforced in the United Kingdom with a higher level of rigour than is applied in mainland Europe. There is not a level playing field. "This fruit will now go to waste at a time when we are all feeling the pinch from rising prices." He said there would also be the environmental cost of taking the fruits to a landfill site. Mr Down said he was not permitted by law to give away the kiwis to a school or hostel and faced a fine of several thousand pounds if he did.

Barry Stedman, head of the Rural Payments Agency's inspectorate, said the consignment had failed to meet the minimum standards for saleable produce, in contravention of EU grading rules. "The inspector's decision is consistent with RPA's commitment to protect consumers, who must feel confident that the produce they are buying is of the right quality," he said. "RPA's role is to work with traders to provide advice and assistance to ensure that this happens and to help traders carry out their business within the law."

The agency said Mr Down has been given a number of options, including sending the fruit back to the importer. The European Commission said recently that it wanted to relax the regulations which prevented misshapen or underweight fruit and vegetables being sold. The rules have previously banished curved cucumbers, straight bananas and skinny carrots.

"The inspectors visit us on a random basis, probably two to three times monthly and select items at random that they wish to inspect," said Mr Down. "The latest inspection took place subsequent to the announcement by the EC that the regulations are being modified. "We have had many items rejected over the years, but this, for a variety of reasons, is one of the most nonsensical."


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