EU food labeling rules threaten German bakers | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 25.03.2010
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EU food labeling rules threaten German bakers

German bakers make their bread with pride and a bit more salt than their European neighbors. But should regulators in Brussels ban them from marketing their bread as "healthy"?

A baker holds a pretzel shaped like the letters EU

German bakers are upset by EU proposals that would deem their bread unhealthy

One goal of the European Union is to protect the citizens of its member countries, but sometimes it ruffles the feathers of cultural heritage preservationists.

German bakers produce more than 300 individual types of bread, and many are unhappy that the European Union may soon ban them from labeling breads with a salt level of more than 1.3 percent as healthy. Salt levels in German bread tend to be between 1.8 to 2.2 percent.

Peter Becker, president of the German Bakers' Confederation in Berlin, described the European Union's intentions as "absurd," saying bread is a major cultural good and food staple in Germany.

A man eats a Big Mac.

German bakers say their bread should be the least of the EU's concerns

"We are of the view that Europe has so many diverse culinary cultures that this intention of the European Union to standardize them is nonsensical," he told Deutsche Welle.

While Germany's artisanal bakers face substantial competition from their industrial counterparts, they still hold about 50 percent of the bread market by value and between 40 and 60 percent by volume, according to Becker.

"I would say this would lower the attractiveness of our bread and that less bread may be consumed overall," Becker said. "If the flavor of bread is brought to a lower standard, then consumers can just as soon buy imported bread from Holland or flavorless bread from an English corporation."

The planned European Union regulations are intended promote healthy eating, but Becker doubts they'll work.

"What happens when bread tastes like nothing? Then right away three slices of salami get piled on top, and that's counterproductive," he said.

A variety of breads on display at a bakery

One baker said Germany has a "grandiose bread culture which is the envy of all the world"

Salt and flavor debated

Joachim Weckmann, proprietor of Markisches Landbrot, an organic bakery in Berlin, said the bread from his bakery generally contains less salt than prescribed in the planned regulation.

"It certainly doesn't affect whole-wheat breads which are naturally leavened. It does affect white flour breads and superfine flour breads which by themselves – and because of their creation processes – don't have enough aroma and flavors. A good bread will taste good in-and-of itself. It's only necessary to add salt to bad bread in order to give it flavor," he told Deutsche Welle.

But Ute Sagebiel-Hannich of the Baker's Trade Association of Baden said salt is necessary for good German bread.

"It just can't be compared with bread from England, Spain or Italy," she told Deutsche Welle.

A man takes a coffee break in front of a poster advertising bread.

Germans eat an average of 86 kilograms of bread each year

"In German sourdough bread alone, salt is already present in the sourdough for the fermentation process, and then more is needed to season the bread."

According to Sagebiel-Hannich, even the French should be worried about the European Union's proposals.

"When one thinks about the baguette, for example, specifically that delicious crust which so many people like: that comes about through the allowance of salt. If that were also to be drawn down, the baguette would simply taste dull."

Author: Gerhard Schneibel
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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