UK Environment Secretary unveils initiatives to enhance clarity and equity in food labelling

A major consultation has been launched today on proposed reforms to food labelling, ensuring consumers know exactly what’s in their shopping baskets.

The plans to give shoppers more information about how and where their food is produced and ensure British farmers’ products get the recognition they deserve, comes courtesy of the Environment Secretary Steve Barclay.

The proposals for fairer food labelling are designed to 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.

The consultation was announced by the Environment Secretary at the Oxford Farming Conference in January, and builds on commitments in the UK Government’s Food Strategy.

It follows recently announced measures designed to support farmers and promote fairness in the supply chain, including the largest ever round of farming grants announced by the Prime Minister at the NFU conference in February, an annual Farm to Fork Summit to increase industry collaboration, and new regulations to ensure fair and transparent contracts for dairy farmers.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said the government backs British farmers, and says he recognises that British consumers want to buy their food produced to world-leading standards, but too often products made to lower standards abroad that 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,” Barclay added.

 James Bailey, executive director of Waitrose, said as everyone deserves to know where their food comes from – how it was grown, reared or made – better information will boost demand for higher standards, as was seen with mandatory egg labelling.

“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,” Bailey added.

Fidelity Weston, chair of the Consortium of Labelling for the Environment, Animal Welfare and Regenerative Farming (CLEAR) said the UK’s  high farming standards need 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,” Weston continued. “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.

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.

The consultation will run for eight weeks, closing at 23:45 on 7 May 2024.

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