Defra launches proposals to make food labelling clearer and fairer

Plans to give shoppers more information about how and where their food is produced have been launched by Environment Secretary, Steve Barclay.

The proposals for fairer food labelling will ensure greater transparency around the origin of food and methods of production, helping consumers make decisions that align with their values.

The consultation looks at how to improve country of origin labelling for certain goods, including how and where this information is displayed and what products should be included. For example, if imported pork is cured into bacon in the UK and features a Union Jack, exploring ways to make it more obvious to consumers that the pig was reared abroad – such as increasing the size of the country of origin text, or placing it on the front of the packet.

It also sets out proposals to require method of production labelling on pork, chicken and eggs. These include a mandatory five-tier label for both domestic and imported products which would differentiate between those that fall below, meet and exceed baseline UK animal welfare regulations, which are some of the highest in the world.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said, “This government backs British farmers, who work hard to produce food to world-leading standards and maintain our nation’s food security. British consumers want to buy their produce, but too often products made to lower standards abroad aren’t clearly labelled to tell them apart. That is why I want to make labelling showing where and how food is produced fairer and easier to understand – empowering consumers to make informed choices and rewarding our British farmers for producing high-quality, high-welfare food.”

James Bailey, Executive Director of Waitrose, said, “We have a proud history supporting British farmers and are the leading retailer for animal welfare. Everyone deserves to know where their food comes from – how it was grown, reared or made. Better information boosts demand for higher standards, as we’ve seen with mandatory egg labelling. Extending this to more products benefits shoppers, farmers, and animals. We support the government’s efforts to improve transparency and ensure shoppers aren’t misled, while giving farmers recognition for their commitment to animal welfare.”

Fidelity Weston, Chair of the Consortium of Labelling for the Environment, Animal Welfare and Regenerative Farming (CLEAR) said, “We are looking forward to the opportunity to comment on Defra’s proposed food labelling consultation and we are glad to see that progress to help the consumer understand more about how and where their food has been produced is beginning to be considered.

“We in the UK have some of the highest farming standards, producing quality food products. That needs to be recognised in the marketplace. To achieve this, we need a clear definition of the many terms used to describe the method of production, and transparency and honest data about how the food was produced on the farm, and right through to the end product.

“Through this, we have an opportunity to support the transition put in place by the government to move the UK to more agroecological farming methods with improved outcomes for nature, the environment and people, alongside food production.”

Creating fairer labels that back British farmers is vital for the UK economy. British farmers already produce about 60% of the food we eat, with the UK agri-food and seafood sectors creating more than £120 billion of value for the economy every year, and employing more than 4 million people.

James West, Senior Public Affairs Manager at Compassion in World Farming UK, said, “It is essential that consumers are given greater clarity on how their meat is produced, and we hope the mandatory labelling of method of production that this consultation could introduce for pork, chicken, and potentially fish, will be a first step towards this.

“We hope that there will be all-party backing for rapid progress towards the introduction of mandatory animal welfare labelling in order to help direct consumers to higher welfare products, whether British or otherwise, that go above the legal minimum standard, and to support higher-welfare British farmers that are producing them.”

The consultation also seeks views on whether it should be mandatory requirement to state the origin of meat, seafood and dairy products outside of the home, for example on menus in cafes and restaurants, to give consumers access to the same information while dining out as when cooking at home.

Take part in the consultation, which will close at 23:45 on 7 May 2024

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