/ Food & Drink

Time to sort out origin labelling

Horse shaped mincemeat cut out

The complexities of the food supply chain were exposed following the horsemeat scandal two years ago. This had consumers questioning exactly where their food comes from.

The various reviews into the incident have prompted an examination of controls across supply chains, including the Elliott report and its proposals to tackle food crime.

One important aspect still to be addressed is the need for clearer information about the origin of meat products. Although origin labelling would not have prevented the horsemeat incident, it would have helped to place a greater focus on traceability. Regardless, it’s essential in order to give people an informed choice.

Improving traceability

Provenance has been on the agenda in both Westminster and Brussels this month. This has included calls from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee for clearer information to support informed choices as part of its food security inquiry.

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee also voted in favour of a resolution calling on the European Commission for action on origin labelling of meat products. Improving traceability was emphasised as one of the important benefits, along with consumer demand.

New rules will come into effect in April, extending origin labelling of meat to a wider range of species. But origin labelling of minced meat and meat products is currently still voluntary. Even in the case of meat, the minimum requirement for pork, lamb and chicken is labelling of place of rearing and slaughter without information on birth as is required for beef.

Support for food origin labelling

A new Which? survey shows that there is overwhelming support for origin labelling. Eight in 10 people say they think it’s important to label it on food products. When it comes to meat and meat products, there’s even higher demand. Around nine in 10 would like to see origin information on meat, poultry and meat products.

It doesn’t vary much by type of meat products either. While nearly nine in 10 wanted information on burgers and sausages, around eight in 10 thought it was important on meat pies and pasties and 82% on meat-based ready meals.

Our survey also shows that one of the main reasons people want to know about the origin, including of meat, is because they want to buy British. In the case of meat products, the main reason most people give is to avoid food they think may be less safe.

The resolution on meat products will go to the entire European Parliament in February. It remains to be seen how much support there will be on this issue from Member States. Our research shows once again that while origin labelling is not a substitute for effective controls to ensure safety and authenticity, it is an important issue for consumers and their confidence in the food they buy.

Do you think it is important to put origin labelling on food products? Do you think it will improve confidence in our food? Do you prefer to know where your food come from or does it not impact what you buy?

This piece first appeared on The Grocer.

Comments
Member

I would like to know where all my food comes from – meat, fruit, vegetables and, where possible, i like to buy British. However this is more because we should have more direct scrutiny of British producers, if the FSA was up to scratch. It is more difficult to directly scrutinise overseas producers from the UK – we will rely more on the retailers’ quality control which, for some in the past, has been found defective.

I am under no illusions however that theier are rogues and rascalls in the British food business in the UK. I rely on what I hope are respectable retailers for my food purchases.

Member

oh1 for an editing facility- sorry – I, there, rascals. 🙁 I must take more care.

Member
Desmond says:
2 February 2015

I now ONLY buy my meat from my local butcher. In addition to me helping local business he has a reputation to maintain and guards it well. The farms and farm details that supply any meat is shown for all to see and it is slaughtered humanely…

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Member

It would be interesting to hear more about the Food Crime Unit launched last year, following publication of the Elliott report. It was the subject of an earlier Conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/elliott-report-review-food-fraud-crime-horsemeat/comment-page-1/

Though I don’t want to buy beef and be sold horse meat, the highest priority is that food is safe. If an unscrupulous trader is prepared to sell horse meat as beef, it is hardly likely to have gone through the normal careful testing procedure to see that it is safe to eat.

It is worrying when incidents come to light, especially when food crime could have been going on undetected for years.

It was of no surprise that it was generally the cheaper products that were affected in the horse meat incident. In another Conversation we learned that lamb, which is relatively expensive, is often replaced with cheaper meats.

It is very important that all food is safe and wholesome, irrespective of the source. Since food is sold for a profit, there is a temptation to cut corners at all stages of the supply chain. Intuitively, locally produced meat is a better bet since there should be less opportunity for something to go wrong. Much of my meat and other food comes from supermarkets these days. The local butcher that I trusted was victim of the coming of Tesco, like so many other small businesses.

Perhaps the best indicator that supermarkets may not be deserving of our trust was the recent publication of campylobacter contamination in chicken. Every one of the main supermarkets had unacceptably high levels of campylobacter contamination. Every one of these supermarkets has carried on selling meat that is known to be contaminated, as they have for years. I would have some respect if they had pushed their suppliers to tackle the problem years ago. There are plenty of opportunities to do so, and some of the suggested ‘interventions’ are simple and inexpensive.

It is easy for us to buy food on the basis of taste and other tangible factors, but most of us have to take it on trust that food is as described and safe. It has to be, from the cheapest sausage to the finest steak.

Member

It’s a great idea, but it may be difficult to bring into effect. A steak and kidney pie may have steak from the Argentine, kidney from New Zealand, flour from Russia, shortening from Germany and seasoning from Thailand. The label is going to become so overloaded with information that there’s no room for Steak and Kidney.

Member

A medium sized supermarket was apparently “tricked” into buying cheap oriental perch when they thought it was sea bass. 400 000 packs sold it seems. Apart from the fraud involved it is worrying that the provenance of the food was not properly followed up by the retailer – what disease or contamination could this fake fish have been carrying? The perpetrators seemingly made a profit of £58000 in one year alone, and were fined £50 000! Should they not be prevented from trading in food, and jailed, for putting our health at risk?

Until food crime is properly penalised the rewards will outweigh the penalties. I don’t want fines, I want real deterrents to make careless retailers take proper control of the supply chain and its quality, to make it not worthwhile for food criminals to operate. I also want a Food Standards Agency that has the resources, the expertise and the will to properly police food production. I wish!

Member

I am prepared to pay more for food and other products from the UK, particularly if they are local. Intuitively, there seems less opportunity for dishonesty to occur.

I wonder how much of the food we buy is incorrectly labelled, either as a result of fraud or carelessness.

It’s well known that some organic food is not organic. A farmer who I have known for 30 years recently told me that a supposedly organic farmer had bought a non-approved product from him. It’s well established that GM products are getting into our food without our knowledge.

I am very glad that the food industry is coming under more scrutiny because food crime has a long history, including the popularity of adulteration of food with toxic materials, brought up to date with the addition of melamine to food to make it appear to have a higher protein content.

Yes I want to buy British lamb and Scottish beef. It may not affect safety, but fraud is not acceptable.

Member

I want to know where all my food comes from – I want total transparency so I can make informed decisions.

I want to be able to support British farming and the UK economy, I want to know how fresh my food is. I want to be able to make ethical decisions, so I’d like to see what the environmental impact has been in bringing my food to me.

I don’t want to support the economies of unpleasant regimes abroad. I also want to be able to avoid meat which has been cruelly treated (like ritually-killed halal meat).

We need total clarity about where our food has come from – whether it’s fresh, packaged, or pre-prepared and food suppliers should be required to tell the whole story about where the food we feed our kids comes from and how it has been processed and treated.