The Government has suggested that a forthcoming European ban on restaurants from serving olive oil in jugs or dipping bowls should not have come as a surprise, despite the fact that there is currently no official guidance on how to comply.
The news of the regulation, which comes into force on 1 January 2014, came to light earlier this week, causing outrage among chefs and restaurateurs (see below).
Restaurants will only be allowed to serve olive oil in pre-packaged, factory bottles with a "tamper-proof" dispensing nozzle, which adhere to EU labelling standards.
John Dyson, technical director of the British Hospitality Association (BHA) said the move had not been expected so quickly. He had only received word of the plans from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) at the start of this month, and had been expecting a consultation over the summer.
Meanwhile BHA deputy chief executive Martin Couchman said the regulations, which fall under the European Common Agricultural Policy and require no new legislation, were a "nonsense".
"It is probably intended for good reasons but in practical terms it is overkill," Couchman said.
But both the European Commission and Defra said the introduction of the regulations should not have come as a surprise.
A spokesman for the European Commission told Caterer and Hotelkeeper that the idea had first been floated last year as part of the Olive Oil Action plan, which aims to safeguard olive oil producers from unscrupulous businesses putting lower quality olive oil into branded bottles.
The European Commission also cited "hygiene" as a reason for the move, although when contacted, the Food Standards Agency said it did not hold any documented records of hygiene incidents involving olive oil.
A Defra spokeswoman added: “When the proposal was first published in September 2012, the 1 April 2014 implementation date was suggested. In January 2013 the ban on non re-usable bottles in the catering sector changed from the being an option to a requirement. At the same time the proposed implementation date changed to 1 January 2014.
“The proposal as a whole was officially voted through by a majority of member states on 14 May. We kept stakeholders, including the British Hospitality Association, informed at each stage and sought their feedback.”
As yet, it is not clear how the UK Government will help businesses ensure that they comply with the new regulations. A spokeswoman for Defra said that the department would: "seek views from the industry on the guidance they would like to see".
No other types of oil are affected by the forthcoming regulations.
The reaction from Twitter:
Vivat Bacchus (@vivat_bacchus)
You'd think the EU had more pressing matters to deal with...
Grant Hawthorne (@granthawthorne)
Daft idea of a law. Sad thing, loads of jobsworth enforcement officers will take delight in prosecuting. EU 1 Common sense 0
Matthew Grant (@mattgrant99)
Ridiculous! Meant to protect consumer? Will they have to show us a raw lamb carcass and paperwork before serving lamb dishes?
Charlie Hicks (@charliehicksveg)
Instinctively pro European but I am horrified by this, just wrong.
Freddy Bird (@freddy_bird)
I'll 'display' our olive oil at the table and hope diners don't spill any on their bread!
Hus Vedat (@husvedat)
I will rebel and go to prison for being an olive oil pusher.
Gavin Baxter (@gavinbaxter)
Just realised the butter served at lunch y'day was not in tamper-proof container. Ban it now.
James Wellock (@jameswellock)
I am all for it as it will protect the customer and ensure quality olive not being tarnished by an inferior one.