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Food Labelling

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the effectiveness of food labelling regulations in informing consumers of food content. (219287)

I have had no recent discussions with the Secretary of State for Health on food labelling regulations, but I have met the chair of the Food Standards Agency to discuss the EU Commission’s proposals.

There are no legal terms to define “vegetarian” or “vegan” in this country or the EU. What plans are there to define those terms in law, and how will they work with the FSA so that labelling complies with them, taking into account the fact one in 10 people are vegetarian?

Yes, I suppose that I should declare an interest. As far as I am aware, there are no plans to define those two terms, certainly not as far as the Commission’s proposals are concerned. The Commission’s proposals will enable us—I am sure the whole House will welcome this—to deal with the problem that we face, which is that certain types of meat products can be described as British meat although the meat does not come from the UK.

One of the lessons of the food labelling that the Department of Health oversaw is that Tesco, which thinks it runs the country, did one thing, while other supermarkets and manufacturers did another. Is there a lesson in that when it comes to carbon labelling? Will DEFRA ensure that carbon labelling is done consistently across all products and not let one supermarket do its own thing?

There is of course a lively debate taking place about the traffic light system, which the FSA favours, and the guideline daily amounts. We have just completed a consultation on that, to which my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will respond in due course, and the EU is proposing a framework that would allow national systems to be in place. On the other point that the hon. Gentleman raised, about consistency in carbon labelling, we certainly should aspire to achieve that.

What further discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the food industry on the labelling of trans fats and artificial fat products in food on sale both in supermarkets and other food outlets?

I have not discussed those issues directly, because they fall within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.