/ Food & Drink

I want to know more about my food than just its nationality

Sandwiches with country's flags

Do you buy British meat? New EU laws mean that companies will have to be honest about where your chops come from. But is it enough? We think there needs to be better nutritional information on food as well.

With an overwhelming number of products on supermarket shelves, it can be genuinely difficult to make an informed choice about your food.

Thankfully, new European laws have just made food choices that bit easier – all companies will now have to tell you where your meat came from.

Old food rules left a bitter taste

Under the old laws, a food’s ‘origin’ was the place where it last underwent a ‘substantial change’. That meant I could sell you some ‘British lamb’ that was actually born and raised in New Zealand – as long as I cut it into chops in my abattoir just outside Slough.

Shoppers were understandably frustrated by this. Eight out of 10 people we surveyed said they thought it was important to have accurate country of origin labelling on food packaging. And the last time we discussed this on Which? Conversation, commenter Frugal Ways said:

‘It astounds me that supermarkets are allowed to grow, produce and rear food outside of the UK then import and package it with British labelling, especially when the food comes from countries that have little or no comparison in food legislation to the UK.’

At the moment, these new origin labelling rules only apply to meat – would you like to see the same rules for other foods, like dairy?

Step up to the plate

Alongside the changes to origin food labelling, improvements have also been made to the rules on nutrition information. It’s now compulsory for all food manufacturers to put key information like calorie, salt and fat content, on their packaging.

That’s great, but not quite great enough – we need this labelling to be universal. If I’m in Tesco trying to choose between two different pizzas, I want to know straight away how they measure up. If one tells me its salt content ‘per 100g’ and the other tells me ‘per slice’, it’s not going to be easy for me to compare them.

Sure, it’s not impossible for us to work out this information with a decent head for mental maths and a little bit of time. But our research has shown that by far the best thing for consumers is clear, front of pack labelling. This includes a traffic light colour coding system which shows whether fat, salt and sugar content is ‘good’ ‘bad’ or ‘ok’.

What do you think about the new rules around origin labelling on meat? And do you think universal nutritional labels would help you make better food choices?


I’d like to know exactly which MEPs decided that the new laws should only cover meat?
Why not all foods?
People are buying apples (for example), thinking they are eating healthy food, totally unaware that the apple they think is fresh, is in fact months old, is grown outside of UK food laws (using god knows what chemicals and gas waxes) and has been shipped around the world.
This alone is bad enough, but at a time when we are all being bombarded with information about reducing CO2 emissions, these apples are racking up thousands of miles. Nothing is said or done by quangos who are funded with taxpayer’s money, to stop it happening.

People want to eat the right things, people want to reduce carbon emissions, but have little or no chance of knowing where things are grown/made.
The original reasoning behind food being grown/processed abroad, was to save consumers money and offer cheaper food.
The cost savings haven’t been passed on to consumers and the process is used to maintain big business’ profits.

James Harrison says:
6 July 2011

Not having to tell the truth equals a lie. This is so only because we know that this is what happens. The truth must be told by all under the law, if they won’t (and they don’t – for sales and profit reasons) do it voluntarily. If we – the humble proletariate – lied…. sorry – constructively omitted or re-arranged the truth – about our tax or insurance or earnings or speed or indeed any misdeed under any other name, then we would be in court or prison pretty quickly. Why then do such companies get away with it?

Sophie Gilbert says:
8 July 2011

I’m not sure what’s happened above, sorry.

I totally agree that it is ludicrous that lamb reared in New Zealand but killed here should be called British, and I think like Frugal Ways that we should be told of all food’s provenance, not just meat’s.

I also would like labelling to be universal so that folks aren’t swindled by certain manufacturers into thinking that consuming certain foods is really OK. Giving you the salt content per portion is like saying: “look, you can have this, it’s not that bad really”, because the portion is invariably less than 100g. Like Nikki says it also makes it more difficult to compare products.

The traffic light colour coding system showing whether fat/salt/sugar content is good/bad/ok is very useful, but it should show the exact content per 100g as well as the percentage of the ideal maximum daily intake, not one or the other.

Li says:
8 July 2011

I think all foods should show where they originated from and stops along the route to the supermarket shelves. . Food cooked in store should be labelled with nutritional content as I note this an area where there is no such labelling. People on restricted diets require this information.

KC says:
23 July 2011

We ought to know where and how our food is produced to make informed choices about what we eat and clear country of origin labelling is essential on both meat and dairy products.
A traffic light system makes a decision for people on food that on its own may not be a problem if the total daily intake is proportionate.
I would prefer to make an informed choice as to what I eat as a little bit of what you fancy does you good and eating a variety of foods in proportion to your total daily intake is clearly a sensible option. You may eat 150g of Yogurt at one time but would not eat 150g of butter all at once so a system based on amounts per standard portions as well as showing the amount per 100g and the percentage of recommended daily intake may be the best alternative.

This may be the wrong place for this comment, but I’d like to see more information about so called formed and reformed meat. I’ve read up about it online and concerned about my findings. It seems to be a short step away from the debate that Jamie Oliver started in the USA about mechanically recovered meat and it’s derivatives.

Hello Andy, thanks for the comment. We’re actually planning a Convo on mechanically recovered meat and its labelling on food. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks. Thanks