Like to know where the milk in your cheese or the meat on your pizza is from? Good luck finding out – current rules make it difficult to tell the true origin of your food, but that could all be about to change…
I like knowing where the food I eat comes from and I don’t like being misled. If a pack of steaks says ‘British beef’ I expect the cow to have been brought up on farm somewhere in the UK.
Unfortunately, as we’ve raised in a previous Conversation, a food’s origin is currently defined as the place where the food last underwent a ‘substantial change’. And some food manufacturers interpret this in a very misleading manner.
New rules about food labelling
At the moment, a manufacturer could get away with labelling bacon as British even if it comes from a pig that was born, raised and slaughtered in Denmark. How? If the pork was sliced into bacon in the UK.
These issues are addressed in a new EU-wide regulation on food labelling currently under negotiation. It will set out rules about what information needs to be included on food packaging and how the information must be presented to consumers.
Country of origin labelling (COOL) has become one of the most hotly contested elements in the regulation. On one side, the food industry argues that any extension of such labelling will be too costly and difficult to implement. But Which? believes that consumers have a right to know where the food they eat is from. Here’s what our chief policy advisor, Sue Davies, has to say:
‘This new regulation means we finally have a chance to have meaningful origin labelling on our food. Existing rules mean that it’s mainly voluntary and even when it is provided you can’t be sure whether you can trust it or not.
‘There is general agreement that the rules around “last place of substantial change” have to be sorted out so that when you see the origin labelled, it’s just that – not the last place of some relatively minor processing.’
What do we want on our labels?
Our research shows that consumers want to know where their food comes from – mainly because they want to buy British and it helps them judge the quality of food.
Eight in ten people think it’s important that the country of origin is labelled on meat and poultry, and more than seven in ten believe it’s important for fruit and veg, dairy products and fish.
In a welcome move last month, the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee voted in favour of extending COOL to all meat and poultry, milk and dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables and other single ingredient products.
Not only that, they voted for it on meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed foods, which means you’ll be able to find out where your pizza’s pepperoni is from.
But there’s still more voting to take place before this becomes a reality for consumers. Whatever the result – and we’ll be pushing for more comprehensive requirements – we are likely to have more information about origin than we do now.