Labelling debate intensifies

The Conservative party has slammed the government for its lack of progress over country-of-origin meat labelling.

The Conservative party has slammed the government for its lack of progress over country-of-origin meat labelling, claiming that, "Warm words have been followed by little action."

Shadow secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Nick Herbert MP launched the attack during a Parliamentary debate on the issue in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Addressing the House, he said: "A combination of European Union directives, UK legislation and domestic regulations has created an environment in which consumers are confused and misled by the labelling of their food."

Insisting that a statutory country-of-origin labelling scheme would be legal under EU law, the opposition minister added that transparency in labelling should be "a fundamental consumer entitlement".

He criticised the government for failing to act on the issue, pointing out that while the secretary of state Hilary Benn pledged to "stamp out unclear, inaccurate or misleading labelling", the government has failed to introduce even a voluntary country-of-origin labelling scheme.

"Despite repeated promises, there is no adequate voluntary agreement and there is no acceptable agreement in Europe," he said. "It is disappointing that the secretary of state has now decided the way forward is a reheated voluntary agreement at home and yet more negotiations with the Commission."

He added that the Conservative party and farmers are "sceptical" about the chances of a meaningful voluntary agreement with retailers because "retailers are not willing to provide the information that customers want" and will only accept country-of-origin labelling for premium ranges.

Concluding, Herbert said that the opposition party members "believe that the only course now is to adopt compulsory country-of-origin labelling", adding that the Conservative party is planning to introduce a Bill to make country-of-origin labelling statutory for all meat products.

"To date the government has resisted those proposals. I urge them to reconsider and join a growing consensus in the belief that change is needed," he said.

The government, meanwhile, insists that it is taking the issue seriously. In response to a question in the House of Lords yesterday regarding country-of-origin labelling for pork and bacon, the Parliamentary under-secretary of state for the department of health, Lord Darzi of Denham, said: "The government is keen to address this issue and Ministers from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs have met with some retailers to discuss how current labelling practices can be improved, so that consumers have the clearest information available to them to make informed choice. They will also be meeting with representatives of manufacturers and the foodservice sector."