Have you heard of them?…..well…Boris wishes his readers a berry merry Christmas!

We banned a berry – and it took Brussels to stop us being so silly
By Boris Johnson

And while we are on the subject of demented British regulation, and this Government’s lust to interfere in every aspect of our daily lives, let us not forget the breakfast habits of Mr Ron Jones, of Chinnor, in the beautiful county of Oxfordshire, and the insane, costly and ultimately abortive attempts to stop him eating a particular type of berry.

You may not have heard of a saskatoon, and nor, frankly, had I. But Mr Jones is widely travelled, and had come across this odd purple fruit in Canada. He put it in his mouth, as the Indians have done in those parts for thousands of years. He chewed. He was hooked. I hope I don’t misrepresent him if I say that he became this country’s leading saskatoon fanatic, and who can blame him?

You may not have been aware that the saskatoon is to berries as the Cohiba is to cigars. It is the king of the bush. It is used all over Canada to make jams, syrups, salad dressings and even crème brulée. According to some bumf I have from the Canadian High Commission, it is standard practice, at all Canadian state banquets, to sprinkle every course with saskatoons. When one contemplates the volcanic energy of this century’s great Canadians, from Mark Steyn to Conrad Black to Margaret Trudeau, one can only ascribe it to the saskatoon-based national diet.

The saskatoon (Amelanchier ainifolia) is also known as the juneberry, serviceberry or shadberry and grows on tall bushes in northwest Canada. It is related to the rose family, and can be used to make all sorts of things, including saskatoon cider, not least because it has sensational nutritional characteristics. For instance, it has 84.84 calories per 100g, compared with a piffling 51 Ca for blueberries, 37 for strawberries and 49 for raspberries. It has more protein, more carbohydrate, three times as much Vitamin C, far more potassium, more fibre and more iron than any of these rival berries, of course you can get these components from outside sources as places with recommended protein to buy in the UK and others.

And it has less fat. It is a miracle fruit, and when, in February this year Mr Jones saw it on the shelves at his local supermarket, he gave a hymn of thanks to globalisation, and for three blissful months he had barely a saskatoon-free day.

Alas, he had underestimated the vengeful meddlesomeness of the bureaucrats. It turns out, of course, that there is a law against this sensible exercise of free trade, whereby British people can eat at breakfast what their kith and kin enjoy in Canada. It is called the Novel Foods Regulation (EC 258/97), and it came into force in this country in 1997, and means that you cannot expect the authorities to accept that a food is safe, just because the Canadian population swears by it.

Oh, no. That’s not good enough. Under the Novel Foods Regulation, anything new to the EU market must undergo at least two years of tedious tests and safety demonstrations before it can be put on the shelves. As it happened, the original importers of the saskatoons just ignored this regulation, because it was obviously absurd, and that is how Mr Jones came to find the berries in his supermarket.

What seems to have happened then is that someone sneaked to the authorities. There are companies that specialise in helping firms overcome demented anti-berry regulations, and it seems that the saskatoon importers made the mistake of ignoring them. These saskatoons are just like blueberries, the importers told the Customs people; just a sort of Canadian blueberry. Oh no they’re not, said the middlemen, angry at losing some business: they are related to the rosehip! Nothing like a blueberry! They are a Novel Food!

And they reported the arrival of the saskatoon to that new and ludicrous body, the Food Standards Agency. In May, the 550 bureaucrats of the Food Standards Agency launched a vicious anti-saskatoon sweep of Britain, and the berry was cleared from the shelves. Mr Jones was indignant; he wrote to me; I wrote to the Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture, and the Food Standards Agency, and I have a full set of preposterous letters telling me that no, sorry, the berry is illegal in Britain, and will be for as long as two years while tests are conducted to find out whether the population of Canada is right in thinking it to be edible, and that is all there is to it.

That’s right: this berry is now banned. It’s as illegal as heroin. It is only thanks to the bravery of the importers, J. O. Sims of Spalding. Lincolnshire, that I have on my desk some of the contraband berries. They are by no means fresh, and have shrivelled to the size of blackcurrants, and as I munch them now I pick up only a suggestion of the flavour that must have entranced Mr Jones (likened, when newly picked, to a mixture of almonds and cherries).

Pathetic though these relics are, they could still in theory be seized by Food Standards agents in black pyjamas crashing through my windows. But the final absurdity is that the FSA fatwa is about to be unexpectedly overturned – not by Parliament, but by Brussels!

The other day the German government decided that there was nothing wrong with the berries, and that the Finns had been eating them for yonks, and under basic EU single market principles, the saskatoon is therefore deemed fit for consumption in all member states, Britain included. In other words, the FSA ban has been rendered meaningless, at which moment you may ask yourselves, what is the point of this agency, invented by Labour in 2001, with its 550 officials paid for by the taxpayer? What do we pay them for, when their cretinous bans can be undone by the good sense of the Germans? What is the point of them?

The answer is there is no point. But if you want to understand how Labour has created 530,000 jobs in the public sector, and squandered untold billions in the enforcement of vexatious regulation, remember how they tried to ban the saskatoon. A berry Christmas to all my readers!

20 thoughts on “Saskatoons”

  1. Looks like we have lost our cherry one more time? or did I mean berry? Should that have been saskatoon! I’m confused…and it’s not even xmas eve yet. Have a good one all and a great new year!!

  2. Bureaucracy is berry, berry important. Berrily a day goes by without some berry berry important berry-Czar preventing us, bere mortals, from feasting on our berries. What disgrace! Nothing like this would ever happen under a Tory government. Ding dong, berrily on high!

  3. What a wonderful example of bureaucratic interference just to show how a lifetime of mindless “following the rules” persuades civil servants to abandon any consideration of common sense. It would have taken very little initiative to enquire what status the berry had in other countries and I love R. van der Draaij’s comments which truly put the situation into perspective.

  4. How berry ludicrous indeed! Although, I have to say, I am not berry shocked. At all. In fact, I’m berry surprised there aren’t more occurances just like this. How berry, berry stupid of this pathetic excuse for a government.
    A berry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

  5. And what are the chances of redundant bureaucrats being made redundant? None. They’ll be redeployed to equal effect elsewhere.

    Probably in the Department of Redundancy Department.

    Berry Christmas, Boris and all!

  6. ahh yet another great article. berry great, might I add. ooh what a great pun. I particularly enjoy the little plug at the end! good stuff Mr Johnson, good stuff.

  7. ohh they didn’t put it on this website, just on the ‘torygraph’

    “Boris Johnson is MP for Henley and reminds you that his novel, 72 Virgins, is still in the shops, should you be in search of a last-minute present”

  8. Does that article quite do what it says on the tin? Never mind the “We” and the “Brussels”, so far as I can see what we have here is two different provisions of the *same* piece of legislation that end up pointing in different directions – as must sometimes happen. So what? I’m not convinced this a stick to beat Labour with – much as I am deeply sceptical of them. Is this what happens when one tries to wear a journalist’s and an MP’s hat at the same time?

    Still and all, Boris makes me laugh, and I’m a fan. 🙂

    And I’d wish him Merry Christmas, if I bumped into him. And of course the same to the glamorous Melissa. 🙂

  9. you cheered me up Michael! tho’ I feel as svelte and glam as a wet mouse!

    just that time of year I s’pose – so many more presents to buy and cards to hand out in a last minute Postman Pat style…—- help! tho’ hope to do an analysis of that Economist apocalyptic thought if I get a chance – sounds a touch pessimistic to me…….and the M Steyn only Happy Holiday – no Merry Christmas thinking in the US…..

  10. So let me get this right: Europe invents
    a sensible law (let’s avoid poisoning the
    people), British bureaucracy over-reacts (again), and we are saved by European common sense.

    It seems unfair to blame Labour because the
    British civil service has outlawed common sense
    (and has done since the dawn of time). However, it’s nice to see my MP (eventually) spotting
    some advantages in Europe (being saved by German common sense).

    Seasonal Greetings and all that.

  11. Is it an offence to eat, or just to supply? My ex-wife often cooked things which could certainly be classed as Novel Foods, and most of which I would speculate, would also comprise an offence in the eyes of our European friends (if we have any)…

  12. Go on, Michael … tell us. What was it she cooked? Was she as adventurous in her foraging as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall?

  13. The offense is to sell. You can give away and or eat whatever you please, only not commercially supply.
    Just as an interesting addition to the debate, now that saskatoons are indeed legal to supply, it is still illegal to make them into jam or jelly. They are not mentioned in the jams, jellies, marmalades and purees of chestnuts directive, and so therefore cannot be so used.
    In fact, selling a jar of saskatoon jam carries a penalty of 3 months jail and a 5,000 fine. No, not a Brit addition to EU law. Straight translation of the original directive. Oh yes, it

  14. And a berry merry Christmas to you too Boris, and our dear Melissa!

    It seems (from Boris’ Christmas cracker) that we were saved from our own British bureacratic stupidity there (and by our Euro friends too). I think we need to be more like the French … appear to be rigorously bureacratic and to adhere to all petty laws, but have a little “system demerde” up our sleeves which allows us to ignore any law we don’t particularly fancy at any particular time. What happened to the fabled British common-sense, did that short bald man with the Yorkshire accent and the funny voice (I forget his name) steal it when he was kicked out of the Conservative leadership? Or was it just a fable?

  15. As someone who used to work for the Department of Ag many years ago, it is my sad duty to announce that this story is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

    While one country may receive the EU legislation, file it away somewhere and continue as normal, we in the UK take these directives so seriously as to be unintentionally comic.

    Has anyone ever had to fish out their company’s paperwork for the VDU screen thought police yet? Neither have we.

  16. My new year res is to hunt down and hurt people who make bad jokes about berrys:) I’ve just noticed that that may also include me……!!!

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