The staunchly eurosceptic Daily Express has published a listicle about the “amazing things we get back if we leave EU”.
“From powerful vacuums to straight banana’s (sic), here are all the things we’ll get back if we vote out,” the paper says.
The piece has been getting widely shared online. But does it pass the FactCheck test?
The basic idea is that the EU has banned 10 things, which we will “get back” if we vote to leave the Union on 23 June.
Let’s take the claims one by one:
“Powerful vacum (sic) cleaners: In 2014, vacum (sic) cleaners with a motor above 1,600 watts were banned to save energy.”
It’s true that vacuums with an input power of more than 1600w were banned from sale in 2014. The idea was to improve efficiency: vacuum cleaners that use less power can still suck as hard.
“A dozen eggs: In 2010 the EU said that food could not be sold by number but by weight.”
Spectacularly untrue, and easy to FactCheck by going to any shop that sells eggs.
In 2010, the EU said very specifically that it was NOT going to ban sales of eggs by number, and quite obviously did not do so.
“Bananas: In 1995, the EU advised that bananas with an extreme or unsightly curvature were not to be sold.”
An old favourite with an element of truth. While there has never been a ban on “straight banana’s”, there was an EU regulation specifying minimum quality standards for bananas.
They should not, for example, be rotten or contaminated with pests.
One of the standards said the fruit should be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers”, although only premium bananas sold as “Extra” class had to be perfect. Lowly Class I and II bananas could have some defects in shape.
“Jam can be called jam: Regulators decided that word jam could only be used if the contents was (sic) more that (sic) 60 per cent, anything less should be called a fruit spread.”
Completely untrue. EU rules had always allowed member states to specify a 50 per cent minimum sugar content before manufacturers can call their product “jam”, but the British government chose to keep the limit at 60 per cent, to the disgruntlement of some jam makers.
In the end, ministers did choose to change the rules to allow reduced levels of sugar. Again, this had nothing to do with pressure from the EU.
The Express actually ran stories attacking both the 60 per cent sugar rule and the decision to lower it, while wrongly blaming both on regulations from Brussels.
In March 2013 the paper slammed “BARMY EU regulations which say that jam cannot be labelled ‘jam’ if it does not contain enough sugar”.
By October of that year it was warning that that the EU was threatening the future of British jam by relaxing the same rules:
“Bottled water: The EU said there was no evidence to suggest that drinking water prevented dehydration so manufacturers of bottled water are not allowed to suggest otherwise.”
Two German scientists asked the European Food Safety Authority if sellers of bottled water could claim that the “regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant decrease of performance”.
The whole thing was a theoretical exercise designed to test the limits of the system which says food manufacturers must not make health claims for their products without checking the wording with the EFSA.
The panel of experts rejected the precise wording of this claim for highly technical reasons. What the scientists had identified as a “risk factor” – loss of water in the body – was really a “measure of the disease”, they said.
The message was that if you want to claim that your product reduces the risk of disease, there are very stringent rules about exactly what you can say.
That doesn’t mean the EFSA doesn’t approve of drinking water. In fact, it recommends that men drink 2.5 litres and women 2 litres every day.
“Curved cucumbers: The EU issued guidelines for growing cucumbers that prevented those deemed not straight enough to be sold.”
“Cheap washing up gloves: The EU imposed rigorous testing on washing gloves to make sure they withstand kitchen detergents causing the price to soar.”
“Oven gloves: Brussels deemed that oven gloves must be able to withstand the pressure of 200c heat causing the price to increase.”
Both these claims relate to a proposal for household items to be tested to the same safety standards as industrial products.
In the end, washing-up gloves, umbrellas and oven gloves deemed to be “artisanal decorative products” did not come under the scope of the new legislation.
We don’t know where the Express is getting its information from on soaring prices, but if the price of a pair of Marigolds has gone up, it can’t be the EU’s fault, since the “rigorous testing on washing gloves” never actually happened.
“Turnips can be called Swedes (sic): In 2010 the EU decided to make clear the difference between a turnip and a swede. Cornwall is the expection (sic) to the rule as locals refer to swedes as turnips so traditional Cornish Pasties are labelled wrong.”
We’re struggling to find a specific regulation that concerns the difference between a turnip and a swede, although rules on accurate labelling would mean supermarkets have to call a swede a swede and a turnip a turnip.
The idea that the EU has made an exception for Cornish pasty makers appears to come from a misreading of this amendment to EU law made by the Cornish Pasty Association of Truro.
The association states: “Traditionally, in Cornwall ‘swede’ is referred to as ‘turnip’ so the two terms are interchangeable, but the actual ingredient is ‘swede’.”
Nowhere in the amendment is the suggestion that this means Brussels has approved an “expection” for pasty makers from the rules on labelling ingredients.
“Prunes can be called a super food: The EU ruled that there was not (sic) link to prune (sic) and the maintenance of bowel function.”
Again, this was the European Food Safety Authority, who ruled in 2010 that there was insufficient evidence to link the consumption of prunes to the maintenance normal bowel function.
In 2012, after looking at more research, the panel changed its mind, so the current situation is the reverse of the one suggested by the Express.
The EFSA wasn’t asked about whether prunes were a “super food”, so we don’t know where that comes from.
The bigger picture
Apart from the nitty gritty of what EU regulations really say and don’t say, there’s a whole other way in which this story is misleading.
The suggestion is that Britain will “get back” all these things supposedly banned by EU regulations “if we vote out”.
But a vote to leave the EU will not necessarily mean the end of Britain applying such regulations.
No one knows what kind of relationship the UK will negotiate with the EU after Brexit.
But if we wanted to pull out of the union but stay in the European Economic Area, like Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, we would almost certainly still be bound by many EU regulations, as part of the price of continued access to the Single Market.