9 JUNE 2001, Page 12

Banned wagon

A weekly survey of the things our rulers want to prohibit

CUTTING red tape is a frequent election cry, and an admirable one. It is just a shame that it is so often accompanied by little plans for new strands of red tape to replace those which have been scissored. In its attempt to haul aboard the patriotic voter, the Conservative party proposed in its manifesto a plot to catch out all those nasty foreign food producers who flood our island with their foul and poisonous nosh. Henceforth, all food producers would be forced to list the country of origin and the 'method of production of main ingredients' on their packaging.

For the bossy bureaucrat, a more appetising measure could scarcely be imagined. Have Mr Hague's advisers ever sat down with a packet of chicken tikka masala and read just how many ingredients, even main ingredients, go into it? If the method of production of every one of them has to be listed, every processed foodstuff will have to be accompanied by a short book. Should anyone be tempted to read it, their dinner will almost certainly have congealed into an inedible mush by the time they have finished. What will constitute adequate information? I foresee a future in which pork chops — English ones as likely as foreign ones — are continually being cleared from the shelves because an inspector from the Food Standards Agency has ruled that it wasn't made clear whether the pig was weaned from its mother at eight weeks or ten.

Food retail has been a weak spot for the Tories ever since William Hague attempted to make a song and dance about supporting Steve Thoburn, the Sunderland greengrocer convicted of selling bananas by the pound, breaking a law passed by the last Conservative government of which Mr Hague was a member. Mr Thoburn should beware: further convictions lie ahead should he be unable to explain how his bananas have been grown.

Ross Clark