Before yesterday (or should that be yeasterday?) I was happily unaware of the existence of a food called Marmite™. If anybody had asked me, I would probably have guessed that Marmite was either some kind of explosive or a building material.
As it is, The Guardian got wind of a story that the Veterinary and Food Administration had banned the sale of the stuff in Denmark as it is artificially enriched with Vitamin B and all hell broke loose in British media. Just look at these stories from the usually rational Guardian: This Marmite ban defies common sense, This will teach Danes to ban Marmite and – as the coup de crace – Marmite ban spreads consternation across Denmark by none other than Alexandra Topping (sic!).
Teh Internets weighed in and the Danish Embassy in London had to publish a statement saying that Marmite™ was not banned in Denmark. Rather, marketing just wasn’t authorised. (See also “How to market fortified food in Denmark“, The Daily Telegraph and Jon Worth).
The uproar in British media and on the internet hasn’t exactly generated any interest in Danish media which is curious, given that any stories about Denmark in foreign media are usually covered in a way which is usually blown out of proportions.
Anyway, the Marmite™ story raises some intriguing judicial and political issues. I am far from being an expert in EU legislation but the basis seems to be that Denmark applies an exception to EU regulations allowing Denmark to set higher standards for foods. I suspect that this goes back to the negotiations about the 1986 Single European Act where the promise of continued national standards with regard to food and environment played a major role in securing support for the single market in Denmark.
Similarly, Danish authorities and consumers have always been very sceptical about “enhanced” or “fuctional” foods and as mentioned above, the addition of Vitamin B technically puts Marmite™ in this category. (I will admit that I myself instinctively see any kind of food advertised as “enhanced”, “functional” or “healthy” as a modern kind of snake oil.
Some of the British media, most notably including The Guardian, have suggested that the Marmite™ “ban” was the latest in the Danish government’s and the Danish People’s Party’s attempts to discourage immigrants from staying in the country, but actually The Guardian got it wrong. Yes, Euro-scepticism was involved but it was of the left-wing, anti-corporate kind rather than the right-wing ethnic politics kind.