Unpackaged bread overlooked in UK law change

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bread, Uk

Ancient laws governing the size of bread in the UK are to be overturned in April but will only apply to prepackaged loaves. Those at the craft end of the industry may have to wait another two years.

The European Parliament decided to abolish the restrictions last May, in order to bring the UK into line with the rest of Europe - but bakers who produce unpackaged and artisan-style loaves will still have to adhere to the old rules. This means that while bakeries and supermarkets started to experiment with new prepackaged sizes last month, they must ensure that loose loaves over 300g still weigh 400g or a multiple thereof.

Although the rules will only be lifted next year, the Local Government Association, which oversees trading standards officers, has said that those who introduce new sizes beforehand will not face prosecution.

Meanwhile, the National Weights and Measures Laboratory (NWML) has announced that it is drafting legislation to include unpackaged bread. It has released a consultation document and is inviting views until January 1, 2009.

The document states: Specified quantities…were introduced as a measure intended to protect consumers from being confused when faced with many different sizes of the same product, from being misled by marginal reductions in quantity and also to assist consumers in making price comparison and obtaining best value for money.”

A NWML spokesman told BakeryandSnacks.com: “It is still in the consultation stage but it could very well go through within the next two years.”

Bread size history

The rule dates back to the Assize of Bread and Ale in 1266, introduced to ensure bakers’ loaves, priced at a farthing, were not underweight or overpriced.

It was not updated until the Bread Acts of 1822 and 1836 which stipulated that loaves should be sold by the pound, or multiple thereof. Then, during World War Two, bakers were instructed to use smaller, 14oz (397g) tins to save on flour, a size which stuck until the UK went metric in 1977. At that point, bakers argued that the new size should be 400g to create as little disruption to their production as possible, and since then it has been illegal to bake or sell an imperial-sized loaf.

According to the consultation document put forward by the NWML, bringing unpackaged bread into line with prepackaged legislation “would also acknowledge the changes in the market and consumer demand for artisan breads which are not made up in traditional UK sizes.”

It continues: “As unwrapped bread, is by definition, sold without prepackaging, consumers would be able to see the size of the loaf and make appropriate value for money judgments when making their purchasing decision.”

There are no restrictions on bread sizes in the rest of Europe.

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