EDITOR’S VIEW: The curious case of the referendum and kitchen fridges

Minimum Energy Performance Standards

The creation of minimum energy performance standards (MEPs) for refrigeration cabinets threatens to be a genuine game-changer for catering equipment buyers, especially as work is already underway to develop similar frameworks for product categories such as cooking and warewashing.  

Rather than rely solely on sales literature, or manufacturer rhetoric, purchasers will be able to compare different models knowing that each product has been tested to the same standards, allowing comparisons to be made on a like-for-like basis.

In the case of refrigeration cabinets, the use of an alphabetic labelling format, similar to the domestic market, will clearly indicate which products are best in class and provide buyers with the kind of transparency that has never really been available to them before.

The groundwork for establishing these EU-led standards has been going on for years, involving many hours of often difficult and complicated discussions between manufacturers, industry experts and policymakers in Brussels. Subsequently, suppliers have spent millions getting their factories and processes ready for the introduction of the new regulations on July 1.

Except that Britain is just hours away from going to the polls on whether to relinquish its seat at the EU top table. Should the country vote in favour of abandoning it, such regulations, in theory, would be redundant before they’ve even actually begun.

It is a both a bizarre and frankly unfortunate situation – and one that nobody could have expected when the date for introducing the regulations was set. Every quality refrigeration manufacturer will tell you that standards uniformity and common testing criterion can only be a positive thing for an industry, so it is fair to say that the arrival of MEPs is roundly welcomed.

Should the UK leave the EU, it would remain to be seen what the framework for legislation is. For the industry to be in a position where it doesn’t really know where it stands just days before the legislation comes into force would be a cruel blow after the efforts it has taken to get there.

One view is that, however difficult it would be to comply, the Ecodesign Directive would still provide a useful guide for the market place. After all, it was primarily introduced not just to make life easier for buyers, but to address environmental concerns. Those concerns would still exist and the UK government will surely want to maintain the principle of reducing energy use, which is what the MEPS seek to achieve.

However, there is no doubt that in the event of a ‘leave’ vote, the whole technical and policy framework issue poses a massive problem.

As CESA director, Keith Warren, notes in the event of that scenario: “The UK will need to follow EU requirements, but it will not have a seat or a vote to be able to influence them. The international climate change conference agreed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C and the UK is part of the agreement – whether in or out.”

Irrespective of which way the vote swings, most manufacturers in the UK will surely want to produce equipment to one widely-used standard, and with the value of the EU export market to factor in (i.e. Uk manufacturers selling into Europe will still need to comply with the labelling), these new refrigeration standards would surely remain in place until an exit plan relating to the issue has been agreed.

Nigel Bell, chairman of Adande, has a very clear view on the situation. He thinks that leaving the EU would be detrimental to the industry for exactly this reason of universal standards: “For sales into the European Union, MEPs and other regulations will remain critical even if we leave the EU. The difference will be that the UK has no influence on those regulations and on the development of new ones. That would be a real step backwards for the UK foodservice equipment industry.”

Glenn Roberts, managing director of Gram-Hoshizaki, is also an advocate of what MEPs seek to achieve and he believes that should Britain vote to leave the EU, it wouldn’t alter the fact that such standards provide a framework for benchmarking efficiency.

“There is a general acceptance that, however difficult it may be to comply, the directive is useful and generally good for the market place. Primarily as it will help to remove ‘rogue’ suppliers and raise ‘product performance expectation’ for the whole market.”

Preserving new incoming commercial refrigeration regulations was hardly going to be a part of David Cameron’s campaign messaging, but the refrigeration industry will be watching tomorrow’s outcome with added interest.

A vote to leave would put a huge spanner in the works of all the effort that have been made to create the kind of level playing field that the industry is crying out for.

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