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19 October 2012

"Pomazánkové máslo" in the EU

The EU's Court of Justice has ruled that the Czechs can no longer call pomazánkové máslo "pomazánkové máslo." The reason is that there's not much butter -- máslo -- in it. As this article explains, it's considerably less than 80% butter, and indeed, it's not really like butter at all; it tastes more like cream cheese or sour cream than butter. It's white, softer easier to spread on bread, tastes nothing like butter, and comes in a little tub. In other words, it's NOT butter, and it's pretty obvious it's not. According to this article from the extraordinarily reputable Aha, pomazánkové máslo was invented in 1977, when one dairy took cream, homogenized it, and let it get just a little sour. Everybody loved it, so it became a fixture in Czech fridges, where it's been there ever since. Your correspondent, in fact, has one tub in the back of the fridge dating back to 2009, for example. 

Fortunately, the valiant knights in Brussels protecting us from the frightening threat of confusing labels have relieved us of trying to figure out whether it's really butter or not. They bought a tub or two of it, found out it wasn't butter -- SHOCK! -- and directed their energies to helping teach the poor Czechs about this fact. In theory, if it's exported to another country, they would *have* to translate the label, and the label would *have* to be translated as *spreadable butter,*  and that could confuse Polish and Austrian people, (who, to be fair, can be easily confused). Czechs had hoped to get an exception to the rule, but the Wise Valiant Court ruled against the tyrannical milkmen.

In the US, Congress has the power to regulate "interstate" commerce; in the EU, a court decides whether or not something that's intended for domestic consumption that's not butter can have the word "butter" in it. One Czech Europol sums it up in the article: "We have a common market of 500 million customers, so there have to be certain rules, regulations and definitions. So if the rule for butter is that milkfat content has to be at least 80%, it is clear that you cannot call something butter which has only 30% fat content. So I think the verdict is clear and fair." It doesn't matter that it's not available for export, or that customers are likely going to be at least as frustrated and confused by the change as by the bureaucratic decision. But the most frustrating part is the arrogance of the overall situation, and the hostility to normalcy. It's always "YOU have to change, YOU have to pay for it, and it's not OUR problem..... Aren't you glad we're keeping you from being exploited?" While it's certainly important for health and safety that pomazánkové máslo should be free of bugs and rat-tails and things of this nature, it impossible to see how these sorts of decisions serve any possible conception of the public interest in the real world. The privileging of the perfect system over messy reality wins out again. The Court takes one particular use of one particular word -- bear in mind "pomazánkové máslo" has never been sold, marketed, or considered by anyone (except for tourists who can't read Czech anyway) as a substitute or a replacement for "máslo" butter -- and decides it knows better than Czechs themselves about the meaning of a phrase in a language it can't even read.

No word at press time on whether apple butter, Lachsschinken (definitely not made from salmon), strawberry lip gloss, American Vollkorn-Sandwich bread (no doubt made from real Americans, in America!), condoms with tea tree oil, or shampoo with shea butter are the next targets of the Knights.

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