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Food labelling matters

The Countryside Alliance has responded to a government consultation on fairer food labelling. The consultation, which closed on 7 May, was announced by the Environment Secretary, Steve Barclay MP, at the Oxford Farming Conference in January, and builds on commitments in the government's food strategy of 2022. The proposals seek to give consumers more information about both where, and how, their food is produced and to “ensure British farmers’ products get the recognition they deserve”. The consultation looked at how to improve country of origin labelling and how and where that information is displayed for minimally processed meat products, such as bacon, certain foods in the out of home sector, such as in restaurants and how national flags are used on labels. The government is also proposing to require ‘method of production’ labelling on pork, chicken and eggs, with a view to extending this in the future to other products such as beef and lamb.

Food labelling is an issue on which the Alliance has long campaigned. We have focussed on the labelling of meat and have consistently highlighted the absurdity of bacon being labelled as British when the pork was produced abroad and only processed in the UK. We are also supportive of the proposals to indicate the method or standard to which food has been produced. The change in consumer behaviour in relation to eggs illustrates what is achieved when shoppers can make an informed choice. Clear and transparent labelling empowers the consumer, ensures British farmers are not competing in an unfair market and can drive up animal welfare because of the choices people make when choosing what to eat. We are, however, concerned that labels should not be unnecessarily complicated and have argued for simplicity and clarity. There needs to be public understanding of what the symbols and wording on labels denotes. Simply adding a government assurance standard to existing industry standards will not help, unless those standards are comparable and consistent with each other.

We have also taken the opportunity to remind government that it needs to deliver on its commitments on public procurement. The Food Strategy 2022 notes that: “Public sector food should be healthier, more sustainable and provided by a diverse range of local suppliers. Locally produced food with reduced distance between farm and fork can provide societal benefits, such as creating personal connection between producers and consumers, supporting local food cultures and local economic growth, and improving traceability of food through shorter supply chains.” As such, we have supported the Public Procurement (British Goods and Services) Bill, introduced by Sarah Champion MP and have met Will Quince MP who has recently been appointed to lead a government review of public sector food procurement.

As part of our support for farmers and local food producers we are also continuing our fight against discrimination against meat and dairy by some public bodies in their catering and procurement policies. As part of resisting these attacks on the livestock and dairy industries, we are encouraging local councils to adopt motions in support of local producers and in favour of dietary choice. Ten councils have now joined the Alliance campaign, far exceeding the number that have signed up to meat exclusionary policies that harm British livestock farming and take away freedom of choice. UK livestock farming operates to among the highest standards of sustainability and animal welfare in the world.

However, reviews and consultations are not enough. Despite repeated commitments by successive governments over the years there has been very limited action. We need change now and the Alliance will continue to campaign for fair and transparent food labelling, a proper and enforceable public procurement policy that supports our farmers and rural communities, and for freedom of dietary choice in the public sphere. Food policy matters but action, not warm words, is what we need.

Read the Countryside Alliance's response

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