Scotland’s most popular soft drink, Irn Bru, will be missing from Burns Night celebrations in Canada this year, after being declared a banned substance. It joins other ex-pat’s favorites, Marmite and Ovaltine, on a list on foodstuffs no longer permitted for import.
It’s not that anyone has ever died from consumption of the bubbly orange soda drink, said to be, “Made in Scotland. From Girders,” but it contains an additive, Ponceau 4R, which is not on the list of approved substances of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Ponceau 4R can lead to hyperactivity if taken in large quantities.
The owner of the store, Brit Foods, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Tony Badger, is dismayed at being told he has to stop stocking Irn Bru and other British brands. He will also no longer be able to sell the Lucozade drink, Penguin biscuits or Bovril, a hot brew beloved of football fans on the terraces. He has had good sales from all of these products since he opened for business in 1997. Mr Badger understood he was following all import regulations and has declared all his purchases through a customs broker. He never had any problems before.
With Burns Night on Saturday, Irn Bru loving Scots are going to be denied a real taste of the old country with their supper. Tony Badger says Scottish people account for a high proportion of his clientele and that Irn Bru is the best seller, especially for Burns Night. The makers, AG Barr, do already make a version without Ponceau 4R in it for the North American market, so it may be that in future he will be able to switch to that version.
The CFIA are cracking down hard though. They don’t want to see any products that are enriched with “vitamins and minerals” and they are banning all sorts of soups and canned foods for having too much animal product in them.
Mr Badger’s Christmas sales were affected when his stock was seized, then, last week, officials came to confiscate the last of his remaining supplies. He is now very worried that his next shipment will be delayed or declared unfit for sale and, having already chalked up thousands of dollars in losses, what this means for his future viability.
Customers are none too pleased either. A Brit living in Canada, Nigel Westwick, said he thought the new rules on Irn Bru were “insanity.” He found it ludicrous that he could buy guns and ammunition quite freely and yet be barred from a harmless soft drink. He does have a point. In Canada there are thirty-one guns per every hundred people. Another customer, Brian Smith, said that he felt sorry for Tony Badger, who had been treated unfairly. What’s good enough for the UK, feels Smith, should be good enough for Canada.
Robert “Rabbie” Burns, the Scots poet celebrated throughout the world on the anniversary of his birth each year, would never have tasted Irn Bru as it wasn’t launched until 1901. He would doubtless have advised the quaffing of a fine single malt whisky instead. It is the traditional toast to the “great chieftain o’ the pudding race” – the haggis – that is the centerpiece of the Burns Night feast, usually brought in to the accompaniment of bagpipes. “Neeps and tatties” are the side dishes of choice, mashed mounds of potato and turnip. It’s an iconic event, following a set traditional pattern, just as the brands that are being banned by the Canadians, are all iconic in their own right, and carry great cultural comfort for homesick Britons. Canada has long been home to one of the largest communities of expatriate Scots and there will be Burns Nights gatherings taking place up and down the country.
Andy Murray is a huge fan of Irn Bru and often chooses it as his beverage of choice to celebrate a victory, as he did when he won the US Open. He may have to pack some secret supplies next time he is playing in any Canadian tournaments.
For many Canadians though, they will be bereft of their Irn Bru, nor will they be going home to a milky drink of Ovaltine, or waking up to a breakfast of toast and Marmite. All these offending items are off the menu until further health risk assessments have been carried out.
By Kate Henderson