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Europe

It’s happening just as warned. Janet Fletcher at the Los Angeles Times:

…cheese counters could soon be a lot less aromatic, with several popular cheeses falling victim to a more zealous U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Roquefort — France’s top-selling blue — is in the agency’s cross hairs along with raw-milk versions of Morbier, St. Nectaire and Tomme de Savoie. …

Of course, French creameries haven’t changed their recipes for any of these classic cheeses. But their wheels are flunking now because the FDA has drastically cut allowances for a typically harmless bacterium by a factor of 10.

The new rules have resulted in holds even on super-safe Parmigiano Reggiano, and the risk of losing a costly shipment of a perishable commodity is likely to be enough to drive many European producers out of the market for export to America entirely. Highly praised artisanal cheese makers in the United States are facing shutdown as well. [Michael Gebert, Chicago Reader] Earlier on the FDA and cheese regulation here and, from Cato, here (2010 predictions, before FSMA passed), here, here, etc.

They told us this administration was going to be run by wine and cheese faculty liberals. Now where are they when they could actually do us some good?

Related, note that the regulatory pressure is coming from both sides of the Atlantic: “Newsweek: French cheesemakers crippled by EU health measures” [Cheese Notes, with discussion of role of giant manufacturers whose processed cheese operations can comply with the rules] (& welcome The Week, Reason readers; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

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Dan Hannan on the EU’s new vacuum cleaner mandate [Daily Mail]. More: Simon Lester, Cato.

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Annals of European employment law: “The Irish arm of supermarket giant Tesco has been ordered to pay a convicted drug dealer €11,500 for unfair dismissal.” The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) found that the market should have considered sanctions less severe than dismissal given that the employee had cooperated with its process and that a manager admitted there was no evidence of public awareness of the employee’s legal troubles, which eventuated in a guilty plea and a suspended jail sentence. [Evening Herald (Ireland)]

“A top EU court has ruled Google must amend some search results at the request of ordinary people in a test of the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’. The European Union Court of Justice said links to ‘irrelevant’ and outdated data should be erased on request.” [BBC; Andrew Beaujon, Poynter; Hans Bader, CEI]

The Wall Street Journal last month (paywalled, no link) reported on how the long-moribund British auto industry now has a striking success, BMW’s Mini plant in Oxford, along with a hopeful sign for the future, Tata Motors Ltd.’s plans to invest $2.5 billion in its Jaguar plant in Solihull:

Workplace flexibility is a big factor behind the success of the U.K.’s auto industry, experts say. The Mini plant operates under the “working time account” model, which lets employees build up extra working hours that they can then draw on in downtime. …

“This is impossible in the rest of Europe on any relevant scale because of local legislation that protects workers’ rights and pay,” said John Leech, head of the U.K. automotive section at consultancy KPMG.

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“As part of trade talks, the European Union wants to ban the use of European names like Parmesan, feta and Gorgonzola on cheese made in the United States.” Having achieved some success in negotiations with Canada and Central American nations, Europe may seek to restrict marketing of U.S.-made cheeses such as Asiago, fontina, Muenster, and Neufchatel.

And it may not be just cheese. Other products could include bologna, Black Forest ham, Greek yogurt, Valencia oranges and prosciutto, among other foods.

No word on renaming French fries. [AP]

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Great moments in NIMBY-ism

by Walter Olson on December 28, 2013

A group in Iceland has sued to block construction of highway arguing (among other things) that it would disturb the ancient elves or “hidden folk” of the Icelandic countryside. “The group also claims the area the new highway would run through is of particular importance because it contains an elf church. A 2007 survey by the University of Iceland found that while only 8 percent of the population believe in elves, 54 percent would not actually deny their existence.” [PBS]

And a good thing too:

In 2008, 1.9 million Portuguese workers in the private sector were covered by collective bargaining agreements. Last year, the number was down to 300,000.

Spain has eased restrictions on collective layoffs and unfair dismissal, and softened limits on extending temporary work, allowing workers to be kept on fixed-term contracts for up to four years.

The New York Times being the New York Times, the trend story is largely anchored by the views of critics who detest the trend and view it as ushering in (new Times preoccupation) American levels of economic inequality, but it still more or less admits that labor market liberalization in Germany has contributed to that nation’s relatively strong economic performance in recent years. Comedy bonus: a description of the United States as a place “where the government hardly interferes in the job market.” [Eduardo Porter, New York Times]

An idea destined to come here as well? “Under the [European Commission] proposals new cars would be fitted with cameras that could read road speed limit signs and automatically apply the brakes when this is exceeded. Patrick McLoughlin, the [British] Transport Secretary, is said to be opposed to the plans, which could also mean existing cars are sent to garages to be fitted with the speed limiters, preventing them from going over 70mph.” [Telegraph]

More: EU denies having such plans (see comments). And in the U.S., federal regulators (NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) have considered speed governors on heavy trucks, drawing objections on safety and other grounds from independent truckers (2007), while the idea of speed limiters on ordinary passenger cars has drawn regulatory interest in both Canada and the U.S., as well as favorable note from such commentators as Matthew Yglesias and Ryan Avent.

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The various member countries have very different traditions as to “collective redress” of legal claims, and while some have liberalized the procedures recently, none is anywhere near as liberal as the United States in permitting lawyers to assert class actions. That’s not going to change, according to Monique Goyens, director general of the European consumer organisation BEUC, which has pushed for new collective redress rules: “The key safeguards against exorbitant awards are in place. So we are not importing US class actions.” [Euractiv] More specifically:

The safeguards include swiftly ending unfounded cases and avoiding national systems where lawyers’ fees are calculated as a percentage of the compensation awarded, like current systems in the US and, to a lesser extent, in some European countries. The Commission also advises countries to avoid punitive measures, inflicted on top of actual damage and compensation for victims.

Maybe one of these days we could get some of those safeguards over here.

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Many loyal users (including me) were beyond glum when Google decided to close down its venerable RSS reader, effective yesterday. Maxim Lott at Fox News has this report:

“You would think that it would take little effort to maintain the site, but compliance keeps the cost up,” the source ["familiar with the matter"] told FoxNews.com.

He gave one example of a costly regulation.

“In Europe they’ve had a regulation for years where basically, if someone requests that all their data on a site be deleted, the company must comply. Reader wasn’t compliant with that. So it comes down to, do you spend a lot more resources making the service compliant, or working on something new?”…

Google spokeswoman Nadja Blagojevic declined to comment about whether regulatory costs played a role in Reader’s demise.

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“Photographs of infants are to be banned from baby formula packaging under new European Parliament rules.” [Irish Times via Stuttaford]

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Even Brussels can get the message sometimes. The EU agriculture commissioner blamed public “misunderstanding.” [Telegraph via Alexander Cohen, Atlas Society; earlier] More: Kenneth Anderson.

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Traditional refillable open-spouted vessels and dipping bowls will need to give way to “pre-packaged, factory bottles with a tamper-proof dispensing nozzle and labeling in line with EU industrial standards.” [Bruno Waterfield, Daily Telegraph] In perhaps not unrelated news, a new poll finds Euroskepticism strong in the U.K. [Telegraph]:

When voters are asked the exact question Conservatives want to put to the public in the 2017 referendum, “Do you think that the UK should remain a member of the EU?”, 46 per cent opt to come out, a higher figure than in other recent polls, while just 30 per cent want to stay in.

Update: May 23 (proposal dropped).

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This is totally appalling: “The European Union is quietly pouring millions of pounds into initiatives and groups seeking state-backed regulation of the press, including key allies of the controversial Hacked Off campaign.” [Andrew Gilligan, Telegraph]

Wait till you see how the market reacts, advises Marc Hodak [Hodak Value]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on February 19, 2013

  • Setting up as a freelance investigative writer? Getting insurance even for your office rental can be tricky [Romenesko]
  • Among many curious Virginia blue laws: “‘any citizen … may institute’ judicial review of any book.” [Barton Hinkle]
  • Whether Rupert Murdoch can buy the L.A. Times shouldn’t depend on which party holds power in Washington [Stoll, Future of Capitalism]
  • “Publisher launches $3,000,000 suit against academic librarian who criticized its books” [BoingBoing, Edwin Mellen Press] “Alternative” cancer treatment entrepreneur threatens to sue dissatisfied patient [Jardin, BB]
  • EU: Let’s regulate journalists [Morrissey] Russia law against pro-gay “propaganda” is part of wider speech crackdown [AP]
  • Twitter’s relatively laissez-faire speech policy has advanced its success [Greg Beato]
  • “Free Speech on Campus Today” [Cato podcast with FIRE's Greg Lukianoff]
  • Forbids writing about him ever again: “Judge says US-based reporter defamed Haiti’s PM” [AP/Gainesville Sun]