/ 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.


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.

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

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]

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

Anyone with a food intolerance or allergy may be interested in signing up for email alerts issued by the Food Standards Agency. The FSA also lists current and recent problems on their website.

How to report a problem is less clear. We are advised to contact the local authority rather than the FSA:

– Environmental Health Officers handle complaints about food quality, hygiene and safety issues.

– Trading Standards Officers handle complaints about food labelling, ingredients, and weights and measures.

– In Scotland and Northern Ireland, Environmental Health Officers deal with all food law enforcement matters.

No problem in Scotland but elsewhere do we report to Environmental Health because of the safety issue of a food that has caused an allergic reaction or Trading Standards because the problem relates to ingredients and description?

My view is that all issues related to food should be reported directly to the Food Standards Agency so that they can route these appropriately and deal with urgent problems without delay.

Good idea signing up for email alerts, hadn’t thought of it before.

I also think food issues should be reported to the FSA.

We buy most of our meat from a local butcher.

I noticed in Lidl, they made quite a thing of British Pork, but said nothing of the origin of other meat. Their meat products have good old English sounding names like Strathvale and Birchwood but they do not say where the meat comes from. If it came from the UK I think they would proudly say so.

Very misleading?

Alfa – I think it was you who mentioned a problem with goats cheese contaminated with cows milk, but I could not remember which Convo this was in. The problem is on my radar because I suffered from a fairly serious reaction to certain foods, though thankfully this has long gone.

I reported a problem with a Food Hygiene Rating and the FSA website indicated that I should contact the council. I would have done this if it had been local but the problem I encountered was when I was on holiday in another part of the country. FSA did take up the matter for me and the problem was resolved.

Serious allergy problems, especially anaphylactic shock, deserve very prompt attention. My experience with Environmental Health and Trading Standards has been very disappointing.

There’s loads of misleading product names. My favourite is Lochmuir, which is presumably intended to make you believe that their salmon etc. might originate from a Scottish loch, rather than from a fish farm.

The convo is “Professor Elliott: what food scandal could be next?”

Someone else posted there this morning with the same problem.

It’s a trade name, like Oakham chicken, Wiltshire Farm Foods, What matters is the quality and taste, and in our experience it is a very nice salmon, without the oiliness of many other farmed salmon. Incidentally most UY farmed salmon originate in lochs, doesn’t it, albeit in farms?

I just see these as examples of unnecessary misrepresentation. Whatever it tastes like, misrepresentation in any form ‘leaves a bad taste in the mouth’ for me.

Here’s an article from the Telegraph about Oakham chicken and Lochmuir salmon. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/8029291/The-mystery-of-the-Oakham-chicken.html

The Daily Mail is a bit more direct about this sort of misrepresentation and they have looked at what other companies get up to. We can laugh at the marketing men that come up with the silly games but I see it as the first step towards more serious problems.

We need to know where our food comes from and we don’t need misrepresentation in any form in marketing.

Wavechange, I have just read the article in the Telegraph.

We used to buy Mey rib-eye from Sainsbury’s thinking Mey was the producer and all the meat came from the same place. It was usually very good but sometimes it looked and tasted different and the quality was not the same. Sainsbury’s stopped using the Mey brand probably not long after the article was printed in 2010.

It is time all this misrepresentation was stopped.

I think it is time all food was sold under the label of the producer and not a collective name for the benefit of the supermarket. If meat is raised on a certain farm then that is the name that should go on the packaging. So if my steak came from a cow born on Hill Farm, Perthshire then raised on Manor Farm in Aberdeenshire, that is what I would like to see prominently displayed on the label.

Supermarkets would not then be able to mix the bad with the good hoping we don’t notice the difference.

There’s an old Conversation about this silly naming game, Alfa. Search for: ‘Are you confused by creative food labels?’

I very much agree that we should be told the name of the producer, with some spot checks to make sure we are being told the truth.

Alfa, I suggest knowing the name of the farm or grower would be meaningless to most people. I prefer to trust the shop I use to sell consistent quality, whatever the product. The store I use do, on some products, add the name of the farmer or grower – apples, pears, strawberries, chickens, duck for example but, whilst perhaps interesting, is of little use to me. Of more interest is the country of origin – not for quality reasons but I do have preferences, UK where it is appropriate.

I missed that convo but 3 years later has anything changed with product labelling?

@ malcolm
We buy a lot of mushrooms and a couple of years ago, opened a pack to find maggots and small flies in it. A few weeks later, the same happened again and we recognised the same Irish grower on the label. As the grower was named on the pack, we were able to avoid buying any more from that grower.

If the Mey rib-eye had displayed the farm on the label, we could have avoided the odd tough steak and not been over-charged for a second-rate product.

Naming growers and farms would improve quality and trust.

We often criticise supermarkets but their greengrocery produce often states the variety of produce. I was amazed by the range of varieties of potatoes on sale in Tesco when we were discussing how to cook them in a recent Convo.

Whether my trust is warranted or not, being told about the producer encourages me to pay more than I would for produce with no information.

If I purchased something from a local producer, I would be more likely to give feedback if I was unhappy (or very happy) with the quality.

I think Loch Muir might, perhaps, be a misrepresentation, rather than lochmuir. However, as the latter leaves a nice taste I’m happy to leave it alone. I’d rather Which? concentrated on poor quality products including the fraudulent. 😀

As a customer of M&S, I think it damages the image of the brand. This and other companies have received some press coverage about silly trade names and I have posted a link.

We had better get back on topic. 🙂

i want to know my meat is humanely slaughtered..

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seeker says:
22 February 2015

I was assured by my M.P.(to be) that if they were elected, the Conservatives would seek to have all bacon being sold as British would be reared in Britain and not labelled British because it was packed here. After almost 5 yrs in power I haven’t yet heard that this has been achieved. Maybe it has happened but I still do not know and buy British (hopefully) as our farmers have to conform to good standards and who knows what happens in other countries.

I would also like to know how meat has been slaughtered.. A couple of years ago I asked in Waitrose and was told the New Zealand lamb and ( I think – I can’t remember – if it was some) of the Welsh lamb were halal. There was a possibility that they would label it to be so but that hasn’t happened.
It should be possible for everyone to choose what they purchase with all the information being truthfully given.

Ricky says:
26 February 2015

Yes I would like to see all foods labeled so I know were it was originated from.And all animals should be humanely dealt with as I am very concerned about this.

Mary says:
22 August 2015

I absolutely want to support and buy British milk from our farmers , plus have them paid a decent price for supplying this milk. There should be a label of origin on ALL products that have a milk content and no ‘By the back door,’ tricks by sellers.we have very strict, high standards in this country, please let us keep it that way by always buying British milk.

Mark Says, Why are our farmers getting a raw deal for their milk? 22 to 26 pence/lit when super markets sell this at 80 pence/lit and doorstep deliveries are coso save moneyting me £1.42 per /lit.

There is something seriously wrong with one of our most basic nutritious food sources. Why is this
when we are supposed to be trying to save money, yet Dairy Crest CEO quoted in a recent video clip
that their profits were up 20%

Stephen Salter says:
3 May 2020

I try to buy British products first, Thai and other countries, I try not to buy anything from EU countries. The Union Jack should be on all 100% British stuff, it takes age reading all the information on the packs, Eastern European standards are not the same as the UK. If the horsemeat scandal teaches us anything it is buy British, avoid Farmfoods and Iceland most of their stuff is not British.