As most of the British public shop in one of the large supermarket chains, the producers and retailers of our food are by and large the same entity.
This is the stage in the production of our food where food labelling has a problem.
Supermarkets are using the current EU legislation to deliberately mislead us as to the food origin.
How? This is the Food Standard Agency Country of Origin Labelling Guidance and if you go to page 6 you will see:
MEANING OF PLACE OF ORIGIN
9. There is no statutory definition of “place of origin or provenance” in the Food
Labelling Regulations 1996 or of “origin or provenance” in Directive 2000/13/EC.
But both in Codex5 and the World Trade Organisation Rules, the country of origin
is deemed to be the place of last substantial change.
This is consistent with section 36 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 where the approach is that for the purposes of the Act:
• “goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change”.
I have highlighted the part which retailers like Somerfield are using in order to sell bacon, from pigs reared in Denmark, as “Wiltshire Bacon”.
This leads to a sizeable loophole, supermarkets can cure bacon and package it and say that was a substantial change, therefore the “bacon” was produced in the UK. This is within the current law but is it what consumers expect.
In January The Independent reported that Somerfield were indeed selling Wiltshire bacon from pigs reared in Denmark. Somerfield said: “The suggestion that customers automatically think the pigs are reared in Wiltshire is questionable. But we will revisit how we label country of origin in that product.”
Hands up anyone that would think for a moment the bacon came from Wiltshire in Denmark? Who doesn’t think this was a deliberate attempt to mislead shoppers, thinking they were buying bacon “produced” (in the real sense of the term) in Wiltshire in the UK.
Perhaps I am a little behind the times but if I buy Belgian chocolates I don’t expect them to come from Istanbul but that perfectly demonstrates the problem. How much cocoa is produced in Belgium .. not a lot and yet the chocolate is produced there and as a consumer I consider it to be Belgian chocolate.
Can we really say the same about meat products. Bacon is simply cured and sliced up pig meat so anyone would assume a label saying it was produced in the UK would conclude that the pig was reared here. If you buy Danish bacon surely you assume the pigs were reared in Denmark and not shipped in from Guam.
However, if we go back to the Food Standard Agency Guidance we see:
“Concerning what processes result in a substantial change, we suggest that for example, the transformation of pork into bacon, ham, sausages or pies should be regarded as a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change, while the simple slicing, cutting, mincing and/or packing of meat does not amount to such a change.”
So this misleading labelling is actually from government recommendations but is thoroughly exploited by food manufacturers, packagers and retailers.
We also see on page 8 the following:
It is recommended that for example:
• Pork sausages made in Britain using pork from countries outside the UK are not described as “British pork sausages”.
Note the word recommended, why on earth is this only recommended, surely it clearly indicates that legally you could label sausages using pork from countries outside UK and call then British pork sausages!
If I buy British pork sausages I want to know they are made from British pork, no if’s, but’s or maybe’s. This is why UK food labelling requires a change in legislation.
What if we make a pork pie though, if the pork is imported but the pie is made in the UK then the pork pie is strictly speaking produced in the UK.
Ask any consumer buying “UK produced bacon” or a “UK pork pie” if they are buying it because it was packaged or processed in the UK and you will get a resounding no. Consumers that choose UK or British labels do so because they expect the meat contents to be reared in the UK, under UK farm animal welfare legislation.
Even such assurance schemes as the do not guarantee British anymore. It used to be the British Farm Standard and is now the Assured Food Standard. Yes you can be sure the meat is raised to the same standards as British livestock but you have to go hunting on the back of the packaging to find out the country of origin.
We need clear food labelling, not recommendations but legislated food labelling that allows us to make informed purchasing choices.
In the next post we will look at animal welfare groups and how they have brought change to livestock legislation and their views on UK food labelling.