Real Bread Campaign urges Defra to regulate UK bread sector

The Real Bread Campaign is calling on Defra to legislate an Act to protect the true virtue of 'sourdough' and 'artisanal' or 'craft' bread. Pic: ©iStock/EmiliaU

The Real Bread Campaign has called on the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to enact legislation requiring manufacturers to list all ingredients, including processing aids.

It is also urging Defra to ban price promotions on loaves and calls for a legal definition of terms such as ‘fresh’, ‘artisan’ and ‘sourdough.’

The watchdog wants the UK government department to update loaf labeling and marketing legislation under legislation it calls the ‘Honest Crust Act’.

Sourdough ‘misuse’

Real Bread Campaign coordinator Chris Young told BakeryandSnacks campaign members met with Defra and the Food Standards Agency in 2015 and 2016 to discuss alleged misuse of the word ‘sourdough’.

“The conversation focused on problems this can cause for people who have difficulty eating other types of bread and the unfair competition it caused for bakers of the genuine article,” he said.

Defra’s suggestion that the Campaign apply for Tradition Specialities Guaranteed (TSG) protection for sourdough was unanimously rejected by its supporters. According to Young, these include “thousands of paying supporters in more than 20 countries… including professional bakers, bakery owners and the public.”

Instead, they want Defra to legislate for an ‘Honest Crust Act’ to create what they say will be a more level playing field for small, independent bakers of additive-free breads.

“We have put forward our request to Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom and Minister of State George Eustice, and expect to hear from them within the next two weeks,” said Young, although, due to ‘purdah’ (the pre-election period in the UK leading up to the elections), Defra said it would be unable to supply BakeryandSnacks, or anyone else for that matter, with a comment until after June 8.

The Honest Crust Act

In the letter to the Defra MPs, the Real Bread Campaign stipulated the revised regulations should include:

  • The requirement for all bakers and retailers to display full lists of all ingredients and any artificial additives used, including those currently deemed ‘processing aids’, for all loaves. This would be on the labels of pre-packaged loaves and on labeling or point of sale signage for unwrapped loaves.
  • The legal definition for ‘fresh’ (and related phrases) as made from scratch without freezing or part-baking of the dough; and ‘bakery’ as the place where this happens from start to finish, not where loaves are merely baked off or just sold.
  • Legal definitions for the words ‘artisan’, ‘craft’ and related terms, governing their use in relation to baking.
  • Legal definition of ‘sourdough’ as bread leavened only using a culture of naturally-occurring yeast(s) and bacteria and a bulk fermentation time of at least four hours.
  • That the word ‘wholegrain’ can only be used in the naming and marketing of loaves if at least 51% by weight of the dry ingredients are unrefined grains, flour or meal.
  • Section six of the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 to be amended and fully enforced to ensure that the likes of dried gluten and soya flour are not used in loaves named or marketed using the word ‘wholemeal’.
  • A ban on price promotions to sell loaves at below the cost of production, a practice that may contribute to an artificially-skewed perception of the baseline price of this ‘Known Value Item’.

Storm in a teacup?

Until this is legislated, Young told us the Real Bread Campaign has asked “the government to issue guidance for all bakers and retailers to adopt these measures voluntarily.”

However, Gordon Polson, director of the Federation of Bakers (FOB) told us that the Campaign is not making any new calls for changes to legislation. He contended “it is simply using Brexit as an opportunity to reiterate its views.

“UK labeling of sliced and wrapped bread is among the most informative in the world being governed by the Food Information for Consumers. There is also, in most cases, addition voluntary front of pack information,” he said.

“The labelling of ingredients and nutritional information complies fully with existing regulations giving consumers full knowledge of the ingredients in their bread and its very considerable nutritional benefits.

“The FOB expects the current EU legislation to be ‘lifted and shifted’ into UK legislation as part of the Great Repeal Bill,” concluded Polson.

Supporters respond

The Real Bread Campaign does have its advocates, though.

Jon Wood, owner of the Edinburgh-based retail outlet Bakery Andante told BakeryandSnacks he agrees with everything the Campaign is proposing.

“It annoys us that you get both industrial sized and small bakers who slap in a bit of baker’s yeast and flavoring, and produce what they call an artisan sourdough in four hours,” he said.

John Townshend, owner of Kennington Bakery in London, agreed, but added that labeling in itself is not the solution.

“Expressions such as ‘handmade’, ‘fresh baked’ and ‘artisan’ mean many things to many people and have, in general, been usurped by industry marketing and promotion.

“I would prefer education to let the populace understand where their foodstuffs are sourced, how they have been processed or prepared, by whom, when and where,” said Townshend.

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