Saskatoon

Before he took on Brexit, the U.K.'s new prime minister took on saskatoon berry ban

The newly selected prime minister of the United Kingdom has an interesting history as a staunch defender of the once-maligned saskatoon berry.

Boris Johnson wrote passionately about the berry, which is indigenous to Canadian Prairies

Saskatoon berries were the subject of a brief ban in Britain in 2004, which now Prime Minister Boris Johnson called 'obviously absurd.' (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

The newly selected prime minister of the United Kingdom has an interesting history as a staunch defender of the once-maligned saskatoon berry.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson was chosen by his party, the Conservatives, to replace Theresa May as prime minister.

Johnson's rise to power was fuelled by promises to lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union, with or without a deal, by Halloween.

Back in 2004, Johnson was part of a much smaller fight — against Britain's brief ban on saskatoon berries.

The ban came about after the berry was classified a "novel food" that might not be safe to eat.

At that time, Johnson called the ban "silly" and "obviously absurd" in a 2004 Guardian article titled "We banned a berry — and it took Brussels to stop us being so silly."

Before Boris Johnson won the Conservative party vote to replace Theresa May, he wrote passionately about saskatoon berries. (Aaron Chown/PA via Associated Press)

He wrote not just about his own fondness for the berries, but about "the vengeful meddlesomeness of the bureaucrats" that had all saskatoon berry products stripped from the shelves in Britain in May of 2004, before the ban ended later that year.

Grant Erlandson, co-owner of the Berry Barn outside the city of Saskatoon, was in the business of selling fresh berries domestically at the time — but wasn't aware of the hubbub in Britain.

Knowing about it now, Erlandson sides with Johnson, especially since he suspects the market in Britain at the time was pretty small.

"Typical politicians to make something out of nothing, in my mind. I think there's worse or, you know, bigger issues in the world to worry about these days than the saskatoon berry," Erlandson said with a laugh.

In the 2004 Guardian article, Johnson praised Germany for deciding there was nothing wrong with saskatoon berries which — under European Union single-market principles — indicated the berries were fit for consumption in all member states.

A lot has changed since then. Now, Johnson is determined to get Britain out of the European Union.

A lot has changed with the saskatoon berry, too. 

These days, producers in Britain not only sell saskatoon berry products — they also grow them. 

The biggest change of all, perhaps, is a rebrand of the saskatoon berry that started in the United States and spread to Europe.

They're now called the "juneberry" in Britain.

One thing that hasn't changed is Johnson's penchant for flowery language — both when he's making speeches and when he's writing.

He ended his Guardian article by taking a stab at bureaucracy.

"If you want to understand how Labour has created 530,000 jobs in the public sector, and squandered untold billions in the enforcement of vexatious regulation, remember how they tried to ban the saskatoon," he wrote.

At home in the Prairies, Erlandson is in the Berry Barn's final week of berry season.

The saskatoon berries are at their highest sugar volume, and the only thing Erlandson has to worry about is people's hands getting too sticky while they get in their last berry harvest of the season.

With files from Reuters

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