On Tuesday 14 March MPs debated the future of food labelling in a Westminster Hall Debate led by Julian Sturdy MP (Conservative, York Outer).
The Countryside Alliance has campaigned for better food labelling for many years, including our ‘Honest, Fair, Simple’ campaign which we launched in 2011, and worked closely with Julian and his office ahead of the debate.
Julian opened the debate by stating that the food and farming sector is nationally important, contributing over £108 billion a year for the UK economy, and playing a valuable role in conservation. He went on to stress the importance of clear and accurate food labelling to British farmers by enabling them to compete fairly and giving consumers the ability and confidence to ‘buy British’.
Legal requirements for country of origin labelling and protected product names are currently determined by the EU. The EU Commission has established mandatory country of origin labelling for beef, lamb, pork and poultry. However, this does not include foods where the meat is processed or an ingredient, such as sausages and ready meals. Therefore it remains the case that sausages made in the UK using Danish pork can still legally be labelled as ‘British’. The requirements also do not include dairy products.
Julian called for the law to be changed, once we leave the EU, to extent mandatory labelling to processed food to ensure that only products made with meat that has been born, reared and slaughtered in the UK can be labelled ‘British’.
The Farming Minister, George Eustice MP, responded to the debate by saying that consumer confidence is vital and stated that after leaving the EU there will be “an opportunity to do things differently, to improve things and to bring clearer labelling in some areas”.
The Minister said “it would be hard to extend country of origin [labelling] to all processed meats”. He stressed the importance of voluntary schemes in this area and did not rule out extending mandatory requirements, stating: “I’m always open to try and strengthen consumer transparency and if there is a way of going further we will look at that”.
On dairy products, the Minister stated that whilst it would not be possible to extend mandatory country of origin to all dairy products, “it would certainly be possible on some products such as butter and cheese where it is relatively easy to identify country of origin”.
The debate took place just a day after Parliament approved the Brexit bill which will give Theresa May the authority to trigger Article 50, and begin negotiations to leave the EU. It highlights the range of issues affecting the countryside which the Government will need to consider during the negotiation and beyond.
Commenting upon the debate, Head of Policy at the Countryside Alliance, Sarah Lee, said:
“Following various food scares the British public are very concerned about the provenance of their food which is why we supported this important parliamentary debate on food labelling. We would like all meat products – including those where meat is an ingredient – to have full country of origin labelling so consumers can be confident about what they are eating and where it came from. So it was disappointing to hear the Farming Minister, George Eustice MP, saying it would be hard to extend country of origin to all processed meats. It still remains the case that sausages made in Britain from Danish pork can be legitimately labelled as British because the meat has been processed in the UK. We believe food marked as British must come from British farmers. ”
Download our briefing note ahead of the debate.