UK-based organic food company Yeo Valley has appealed to MPs, MEPs, and Tony Blair to help it maintain the consistency of its range of bio live yoghurts. The company claims that it is under EU pressure to change the name of its products and alter its ingredients.
The problem touches on a number of legislative issues that are driving some manufacturers to distraction. According to Yeo Valley, there is a proposal within the EU to ensure that only desserts made with a traditional type of bitter tasting live bacteria described in an old Bulgarian recipes should be called yoghurt.
If the proposal is successful, then Yeo Valley claims that anything else would have to be labelled mild alternate culture heat-treated fermented milk. It's the kind of story that makes Eurosceptics wince.
"The Government wants people to eat more healthily, but things like this will just put people off," said Yeo Valley Organic's managing director Graham Keating. "We are writing to Tony Blair, as well as our own MP's and MEP, asking for their help and we think action needs to be quick. The EC agriculture division is now in its fourth draft and this could become law as early as next year."
There is also a move to have the volume of milk solids in yoghurt reduced. This, says the company, is fine for brands that use artificial thickeners and emulsifiers, but for manufacturers and processors that don't use artificial additives, the move could seriously affect the consistency of the product.
"It's crazy," said Keating. "We presume they are thinking clearer labelling will make things easier for consumers to understand, but this is only going to cause confusion. People won't know what they are looking at if they see this in a shop...and how many will have shopping lists wide enough to carry that lot?
"All of our yoghurts are bio live and made with specially mild cultures that we have chosen because they give a very fresh taste and a yogurt with a creamy texture. Whenever food experts have taste tests we are given high marks. People like them and trust them and they don't want them messed around.
"We understand that because of the pro-biotic cultures we use and the way we make our yoghurts, in small, traditional batches, we might be able to drop the words heat treated, but the rest of the new labelling would still be too much of a mouthful for most consumers."
There has been growing demand over the past few yeas for supplies of milk and fruit raised without chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. As a consequence, the number of farms in the UK converting to environmentally friendly organic agriculture has increased.