One of the biggest (of many) problems with the UK news media is the laziness and lack of curiosity of most journalists. Today provides us with a case in point with a story that was splashed last night by Patrick Hennessy in the Barclay Brother Beano.
The sub editors worked their supposed magic by putting the following title on Hennessy’s piece: ‘Best before labels reach their sell-by date in food waste crackdown‘. The subs then add some apparent context for readers with the by-line that: ‘The “best before” dates on food packaging are set to be scrapped in a drive by ministers to stop millions of tonnes of perfectly edible produce being thrown away each year.‘
These excitable headlines have spawned from what Hennessy writes in his piece:
New guidelines are expected to be unveiled which will provide better information for shoppers and make them far more reluctant to chuck out food before it is even opened, potentially saving households hundreds of pounds a year.
The Sunday Telegraph has learned that the coalition wants an end to the confusing proliferation of instructions on food labelling which have greatly expanded over the past decade.
Instead of marking food “best before” a certain date, retailers will in future have to produce labels which give details of the health risks associated with individual foods that remain on shelves or in the fridge for a lengthy period before being consumed.
So something is now ‘expected’ on the basis of someone in the coalition saying they ‘want’ to change food labelling. And this has then been turned into the current labelling being ‘set to be scrapped’. You see how the piece gets increasingly sexed up? But not only is it a load of rubbish, it provides clear evidence of the laziness of hacks who wait to been spoonfed tit bits like this (presumably prior to their own ‘best before’ date, or elections as they are more commonly known).
Where does the lavishly remunerated Hennessy show any curiosity? Where is his research into the origin of the food labelling standard and the laws or regulations that govern it? We know he hasn’t been curious or looked into the origin of the rules because if he had he would have learned that the standard is imposed upon us by the EU – and the UK government (if you can call it that) has no control over the rules and therefore cannot simply dispense with them.
For that background information, which demonstrates the story to be a pile of horseshit, you need to turn to so called citizen journalists toiling away on their blogs – in this case Dr Richard North at the always excellent EU Referendum. As Richard points out:
“The ‘best before’ dates on food packaging are set to be scrapped in a drive by ministers to stop millions of tons of perfectly edible produce being thrown away each year”. So says the Sunday Failygraph today, in a pathetically inadequate report which misses out two absolutely crucial words: “European Union”.
The point is, of course, that the “best before” dates are not going to be scrapped. This is because food labelling is an exclusive EU competence and the provisions are set out in Directive 2000/13/EC of 20 March 2000 on “the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs” (pictured on his blog).
The Directive is transposed into British law by the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 as amended (several times), and there are absolutely no plans to amend the Directive, or change the Regulations.
So what is the point of paying to buy the Telegraph or Sunday Telegraph, or trying to inform yourself of what is happening on its website, when the news it publishes is unresearched propagandist nonsense? But this story then goes on to highlight another miserable failing in the UK news media, the problem of derivative reporting of inaccurate cant. For Hennessy’s piece has been picked up and published by the Mail on Sunday and by the Sunday Mirror. In their desperation to appear in the know and up to speed with events, they are happy to report the same fallacious rubbish that Hennessy was allowed to print by his incompetent editors.
The reality is comments left on those stories are far more informed than the journalist hacks who wrote them, partly because they have the good sense to check this kind of stuff on EU Referendum. We must also mention politics.co.uk which also tilts at the story, and almost gets it right when it reports that:
Ministers have shied away from changing the law when it comes to a review of food waste.
The government is set to change guidelines affecting the ‘best before’ date on food and could require retailers to outline the health impacts of eating food which have not been consumed quickly, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said there would not be any change in existing legislation, however.
A spokesperson said: “By law pre-packed food must show a best-before date, even though many foods are still safe to eat after that date.
However even though that site broadly gets it right, it also failes to explain where that law is made or examine why Parliament doesn’t simply change it. Although readers are given slightly more accurate information, they are left without any substantive explanation or any meaningful context.
If you want the full story forget the mainstream media. Its owners have their own an agenda and its hacks prize maintaining their shoulder rubbing access to talking heads in the political class above their remit to report the full, factual story to their readers. The UK’s news media is past its ‘Use By’ date.