By John Bauld, BBC NewsLondon, EuropeFor the first time in its history, Britain’s tea drinkers are being warned that their local shops and shopshops could be fined if they don’t comply with EU rules on the use of tea leaves in their products.
The issue has been thrust into the spotlight after the EU launched a campaign on Thursday to ban “spill” teas from the EU market.
The EU’s European Consumers’ Commission (ECC) has said it is trying to clamp down on “market distortions” and other “non-market-related” effects of EU rules that allow EU members to export tea, but the British Government has not been shy about expressing concerns about the rules.
In a joint letter to the ECC on Thursday, ministers said the UK should be allowed to sell its tea under a number of conditions.
But the ECI also said there were concerns about tea that might be contaminated with a “foreign or unwanted substance” and the “potential for misuse” of tea.
It warned that some tea leaves were “spilling” into EU markets and there were “clearly potential problems” with the EU’s rules on tea.
“We are also concerned about the risks posed by certain types of tea and the impact that such contamination could have on EU markets,” it said.
“It is essential that all products from all markets can be sold under EU rules in a safe and sanitary way, and that this can be ensured in a transparent and fair manner.”
The ECI’s letter to European Parliament leader Viviane Reding said the “vast majority of EU markets” had already adopted the EU regulations on tea, and its “very limited numbers” were “unaffected” by the UK’s campaign.
“So, the ECs concerns do not arise from the fact that the UK is a member of the EU, but rather, from the impact on EU tea markets of this Government’s policy,” it added.
A number of European countries, including the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium, have already imposed fines of up to £10,000 on tea shops for failing to comply with the regulations.
The ECC’s letter said it was “unaware of any European country where tea shop owners are subject to a fine for not following EU regulations”.
The EC’s letter came after a government official said tea shops should be given more leeway to comply.
The letter said the tea market was “largely unregulated” and that many tea shops were not able to follow EU rules.
It said that there was “a lot of concern” about the possibility of tea being “poisoned with a foreign or unwanted material” and there was a “clear possibility of misuse”.
“This means the possibility for tea to be contaminated, the risk of harmful adulteration, and the potential for misuse,” it noted.
The warning came after the EC has said that it is “committed to protecting the health and safety of consumers” in its efforts to protect the health of the tea industry.
But it said that, in the past, “it has not considered the potential impact on the EU supply chain and has not taken into account any other potential impacts” from EU rules and regulations.
“The UK is not the only country that has faced this situation,” the EC said.
The commission also said it has already imposed a fine of £50,000 against a British tea seller who did not carry out a European Union-wide “safeguard” inspection before selling tea to the EU.
The European Commission has been in contact with the UK Government to urge it to adopt the guidelines as soon as possible.
The UK Government has until December 11 to decide whether to adopt them.
The new guidelines are not set to come into force for the rest of the year.