Voluntary country of origin labelling deemed insufficient

Agriculture Minister Jim Paice has called for more improvement on country of origin labelling, as Defra revealed the results of its first survey into the new voluntary code of conduct.

The survey looked at labels on meat and dairy products available at the major retailers and a number of independent shops. It found that 18% of lightly processed meat products (including bacon, sausages and ham) carried no origin information at all, with 58% showing both origin of the ingredients and place of manufacture.

Of the more complicated products, such as meat pies and ready meals, 24% made no origin statement at all, and only 47% gave statements of both the ingredient origin and of the product as a whole. Seventy-five per cent were found to be compliant with the best-practice principles laid down by the voluntary code. 

Own-label products were found to be more consistently labelled than their branded counterparts and overall compliance of meat products with the voluntary code came out at 70%.

Minister of Agriculture Jim Paice said: “Honest food labelling is a priority for me. Consumers want to see clear, honest labels that allow them to make a choice about the standards and origin of their food. They are entitled to believe that if a label says or implies that a product is British, it is British.

“The food industry has already taken the initiative on this, but today’s results show there’s still room for improvement. People are increasingly eating out, so we’ll work with the catering sector to make sure they get the right information as well.”

Under current legislation, there is no formal statutory definition of place or origin or provenance. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules deem this to be the place of 'last substantial change'.

In November 2010, new voluntary principles were developed by key bodies representing food retailers and manufacturers  to provide customers with clear, accurate information on the origin of their food. It ensures that the term “British” can only be used for meat from animals born and reared in the UK.

The European Union is currently negotiating a food information regulations proposal.

>Meat country of origin labelling principles