EU proposes stricter meat labelling rules

The European Commission is considering new food labelling proposals, which would make it illegal to label foreign meat as British.

The proposed regulation would require any label giving the origin of meat to specify where it was bred, reared and slaughtered. Under current rules, meat that has been reared and slaughtered can be labelled as British, as long as it is processed or packaged in the UK.

Food and farming minister Jane Kennedy has welcomed the proposals, saying that domestic farmers would benefit from a system which gives shoppers more information about the origin of their food.

Other ministers and industry members argue that the proposals do not go far enough and should include compulsory country-of-origin labelling. Tory shadow farming minister Jim Paice said: "We have consistently called for honest country-of-origin food labelling.

"A voluntary scheme does not go far enough, however. If we are to truly enable consumers to make informed choices about the food they are buying and reward local producers for their high standards, clear country-of-origin labelling must be compulsory."

This week, Tory MP Richard Bacon introduced a backbench Bill in the Commons, which would ensure that information about the country of origin of foods is included in the labelling.

Addressing his peers, Bacon pointed out that interest in local sourcing and local production of food has grown significantly in recent years and said that consumers should be given the information they need to make "informed decisions" about the food they buy.

He added that there was a particular need to clamp down on misleading food labels and said that country of origin was "an area where there is particular potential for consumers to be misled".

"Clear mandatory country-of-origin labelling would significantly reduce the risk that consumers making a food purchasing decision would be misled, or in practice be unable to use their consumer power to support domestic producers if that is what they wish to do," he said.

"I must emphasise that this is not in order to prevent consumers buying products from where they wish, but, rather, to ensure that they are making informed decisions and that they cannot be misled."

Bacon acknowledged that country-of-origin labelling could be problematic for processed meat, where sourcing frequently varies.

"Modern labelling technology has improved considerably in recent years, and I am persuaded that it would now be easier for processed food manufacturers to comply with country-of-origin labelling requirements than it was in the past, but I acknowledge that processed food does present greater difficulties in labelling than fresh meat," he added.