by Howard Anglin (Sept. 2006)
What follows is a literary caprice inspired by the E.U.’s threat to forbid British chocolate companies from calling their product “chocolate” because it contained too much vegetable oil. After acrimonious negotiation, the British position narrowly prevailed, in part because large continental producers opposed their national governments, who took the side of artisinal producers. My heart and my dollars are with the artisans, but so they would be regardless of what the E.U. said. Common sense escaped this encounter with the E.U. bureaucracy bruised but intact. It will not always be so fortunate.
And so, on to the fable:
When my secretary interrupted my afternoon nap to tell me there was an urgent call from a Mr. Charles Bucket of the Willy Wonka Chocolate Company, I assumed that there had been some confusion. No, she explained, in the weary tone that secretaries reserve for lawyers half their age, he had specifically asked if I would visit him at his factory as soon as possible. I didn’t hesitate. Still struggling with my coat, I dashed from my office into the street and haled a passing black cab.
I had read, of course, of the exploits of this corporate wunderkind, hand-picked at a tender age by the late Mr. Wonka himself to take over his revolutionary candy company, and I was eager to discover what business he had with me, a young attorney of no reputation and less achievement. But when the cab arrived at the fabled factory, my heart sank. Where I had expected manic energy and shining machines churning out candies to dazzle the mind and palate, I found instead a silent, rather shabby Victorian brick building with a sign on its rusted iron gate informing passers-by that it was “Closed Indefinitely for Upgrades.” Along the sidewalk a crowd of little men in factory uniforms, some smoking tiny hand-rolled cigarettes, milled aimlessly. Out of this crowd emerged the thin figure of Charlie Bucket. His once golden curls were now grey wisps, swept back off his sallow face, and the eyes that greeted me were dull and dispirited. He extended his hand.
‘Thank you for coming, sir. As you can see, we’re pretty hard up. That’s why we called you—we couldn’t afford a fancy, high-priced lawyer.’
Well, that explained my presence. I asked him what the problem was and why the legendary factory was closed. In response, he thrust this letter into my hand and stepped back to watch me as I read:
1950 Schuman Strasse
Mr. Charles Bucket
Willy Wonka Chocolate (sic.) Company, PLC.
London, WE HV1
1 January 2012
Dear Madam or Sir,
It has come to our collective attention that your business in the field of Chocolate and Sugar Confectionary (Eurostat Reference No. 15.84.2) is in violation of both the letter and spirit of the Rules and Regulations (the ‘Rules’) of the Commission. Although we first became aware of your company through the publication of the 1964 Dahl report, the nature of your corporate activities initially confounded our regulatory staff, which has limited experience in dealing with innovative entrepreneurship. However, after careful scrutiny of your business practices and product line, we are pleased to be able to issue the following recommendations in order to assist your compliance with the Rules. We trust that you will appreciate the extraordinary efforts of our staff on your behalf in this matter and that you will make every effort to implement the required changes.
1. Wonka’s Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight
The labeling and marketing of this product clearly deviates from the guidelines set forth in our Regulation on Nutritional, Functional and Health Claims Made on Foods. We believe that the vagueness of the description could result in consumer confusion and, furthermore, that the unsubstantiated claim of Whipple-Scrumptiousness constitutes a deceptive or misleading marketing practice. After careful testing, we suggest the alternative name “Semi-soft, chewable bar found by not less than 72% of non-allergic persons to be above average in taste and significantly above average in texture.” (In connection with this matter, we also request that you forward to us copies of marketing materials for the following products: Eatable Marshmallow Pillows, Everlasting Gobstoppers and Wriggle-Sweets That Wriggle Delightfully In Your Tummy After Swallowing. (Eurostat Reference Nos. Pending))
Second, and of even more serious concern, the product in question does not comply with the specification for the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) ‘Fudgemallow Delight’, registered by the Netherlands in 1992. You are encouraged to note that, for products that do not comply with a specification and are manufactured in a State other than that of the PDO and subject to the conditions of the system of derogations, (i) the transitional system of derogations cannot lead to their being freely sold in the Member State which has applied for registration and (ii) they may be sold in other States provided that the State in question consents and the other conditions set out in the Regulation (as regards labeling and time-limits) are respected.
2. Chocolate Room, With Chocolate River and Waterfall
The presence in your factory of a functioning chocolate river and waterfall contravenes our Workplace Safety Guidelines on Edible Topological Features. The industrial benefits that you claim for it (“No other factory in the world mixes its chocolate by waterfall! But it’s the only way to do it properly!”) are far outweighed by the potential hazard posed by flowing chocolate to under-skilled workers. Unless and until you produce original documentary evidence that all applicable workers have achieved a level 3 or higher certificate in Lifeguarding and Rescue Skills (Cocoa Specific) from a compliant Member State, we must insist that you mix and store your liquid chocolate only in approved sanitary containers.
3. Gum That Is A Three Course Meal
Although we initially classified this product as “Chewing Gum” (Eurostat Reference No. 126.96.36.199), your claims that “This piece of gum I’ve just made happens to be tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie” and that “You can actually feel the food going down your throat and into your tummy!” prompted us to create new sub-category “Chewing Gum, Realistic Food Supplement” (Eurostat Reference No. 188.8.131.52A). Our real concern, however, is your company’s failure to abide by Regulation (EC) No. 258/97 Concerning Novel Foods and Novel Food Ingredients (GMO). Laboratory analysis of this product was inconclusive, but our scientific staff strongly believes that the presence of such disparate organisms as tomatoes, beef, and blueberries in a single stick of chewing gum indicates an anti-consumer disregard of public preference for non-genetically modified food products and is, moreover, most likely a violation of the Precautionary Principle.
We wish to express, in the gravest possible terms, our horror at the working conditions of the 3,000 Loompalandish employees working and housed at your factory in blatant contravention of our April, 2004 Directive on Illegal Immigrants (Fictitious). An immediate effort should be made to ascertain each worker’s date of birth (fictitious), to secure the appropriate temporary work permits (fictitious), to enroll each of them in a qualifying pension plan (fictitious), retroactive to his or her date of employment, and to arrange for a full inspection of their medical conditions and housing situations (fictitious) by EU personnel. They must also be apprised of their rights as employees under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and provided with appropriate information concerning the benefits of labour union membership (fictitious).
We are also in the process of reviewing your use of the word “Chocolate” in your corporate name and hereby put you on record notice that a successfully renewed Belgian challenge to the use of this term will likely necessitate the change of your company’s name to “Willy Wonka’s Cocoa-Gluten Emulsion Factory, PLC”.
Should you choose to ignore these recommendations, your continued non-compliance will result in the issuance of a more strongly worded letter.
Yours in unity,
When I had finished reading the letter I paused, trying to frame the kindest possible response to the desperate man standing before me. When I spoke, it was with a heavy heart.
“I’m afraid that I can’t help you, Sir. I can draft a reply, but there really isn’t much else that we can do. The Commission has spoken.”
Charlie nodded slowly; he had known before I arrived that his days of free-wheeling invention were over. He just thanked me and turned back towards the huddled crowd. I climbed back into the cab and, as it pulled away from the pavement, I heard the little men start to sing:
There’s one certain way of knowing
Which direction we are going,
That’s to watch our powers flowing,
To the EU, which is growing.
The directives keep on showing
Us the lines we must be toeing,
While the Eurocrats are crowing,
And they’re certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing…
The author, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., previously practiced in London for several years.
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