What do Food Regulations Mean for the Future of Good Food?

We look at Food Regulations and the affect they’re having on local food businesses and what they mean for food producers and restaurants in Ireland.

While the world was celebrating love and romance this weekend, one of our stalwart campaigners for good Irish food was discussing the topic of food regulations in the press.

Elaine Murphy runs the award winning and much acclaimed Winding Stair in central Dublin, located very close to the city’s famous Ha’penny Bridge. The restaurant has been a Good Food Ireland member for many years, choosing local produce for a modern approach to traditional Irish cuisine. No finer woman to speak about the over-regulation of food and how it ‘stymies the very essence of what we are about’, as she so eloquently put it in an article in the Independent this weekend.

Elaine speaks firstly about the number of food allergens now required to be listed on menus, and how this vastly reduces the ability to react quickly to seasonal availability of ingredients. According to this experienced restaurant manageress this regulation means that chefs now have to go through the ingredients of a proposed new dish for allergens, before they can add it to the menu, which can rule it out of being offered at all. She also talks about how restaurants are ‘less willing to offer’ gluten free options because of strict regulations regarding dedicated gluten free kitchens. Outdoor dining also comes under fire, with the cost of licensing for outdoor tables putting it wide of the budget for many business owners, thus taking away its instant appeal and feel-good factor for a business.

These and many other subjects are tossed out there for discussion. Elaine is one of a select number of working Irish food writers who also has first-hand hospitality industry experience and can speak with authority on the matter. She tells it how it is on these laws and how they really affect restaurateurs and food businesses, and in the end, the customer.

On the same topic, only the other day we heard a raw milk lover talking about how she was brought up on a dairy farm in Ireland and drank raw milk straight from the cow all her life and how delicious it was, and that it was ‘sad that customers today didn’t at least have the option of choosing if they wanted to buy raw milk or not as a regular occurrence’. This particular person’s view was that ‘they’d never get away with it in France!’ As we all know, the French are nothing if not dedicated to their pure regional heritage foods and in particular, raw milk cheeses and dairy products.

Since a tireless campaign for raw milk has taken place here in Ireland since 2011, via Raw Milk Ireland, there are indeed a few limited supplies of raw milk for sale, from certain dairy producers. But it’s by no means widespread and doesn’t really constitute a mainstream choice for everyone yet. Raw milk cheeses are produced here and have proved to be some of the most acclaimed cheeses in the world. Good Food Ireland has a number of raw milk cheese makers as members. These sit happily alongside pasteurised Irish farmhouse cheeses and customers have a choice. Which is exactly what should happen.

Tight food regulations for smaller producers have also been responsible over the years, for closing down many food businesses which just could not justify the financial investment required to bring their premises into what the authorities would deem ‘full compliance’. In a lot of cases, it’s not just about making a food business safe in its production and ensuring food safety and traceability for the consumer, but extreme measures that cost a bomb and all but kill the individuality of the product. This in turn kills diversity, and food production becomes homogenised as a result.

There are many food champions involved in Good Food Ireland.  Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cookery School, Peter Ward of Country Choice, Evan Doyle of Brooklodge and Declan Ryan of Ryan’s Arbutus Breads, are just some voices who come to mind who have worked closely with the food regulatory bodies of Ireland to try to ensure diversity while keeping food production safe and healthy. We need these experts to speak up and offer their knowledge in order to ensure Ireland’s produce remains at the highest quality it can be, whilst also offering something unique and different to the mix. Myrtle Allen was one of the first warriors for small producers, and highlighted their produce on her menus at Ballymaloe House. She has encouraged and been a leading source of advice and inspiration for many artisan producers over many years, and is responsible for the survival of quite a few of them to this day.

Good Food Ireland is made up of a body of passionate like-minded people, who wish to bring the Irish ingredient led experience to the plate through choice and quality of safely produced Irish food which retains its integrity and isn’t compromised by legislation. Thankfully, there are also now more Environmental Health Officers and departments who are willing to engage and liaise with producers and food businesses, in order to make things work well for both parties. Working together in harmony, our industry experts and the formal food authorities can create a rich culinary offering for Ireland.