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Food Labelling

Volume 505: debated on Thursday 4 February 2010

1. When he last met representatives of the food retail industry to discuss country of origin food labelling; and if he will make a statement. (315361)

8. When he last met representatives of the food retail industry to discuss country of origin food labelling; and if he will make a statement. (315382)

12. When he last met representatives of the food retail industry to discuss country of origin food labelling; and if he will make a statement. (315386)

13. When he last met representatives of the food retail industry to discuss country of origin food labelling; and if he will make a statement. (315387)

I met retailers, processors, producers and representatives of the food service industry on Monday, when I chaired the pigmeat supply chain taskforce, which agreed a voluntary code of practice on labelling for pork and pork products. That code will ensure that consumers have clear and unambiguous origin information when buying pork products.

That is good news, partly. Has the Minister also met the Consumers Association? He will know that it recently conducted a survey showing that 80 per cent. of people want to know the origin of meat and poultry and 77 per cent. that of fruit. It is incredible and surprising to me that that is not mandatory on labelling. Will he push for that in the European Council?

I am sorry that I have not met the Consumers Association, but I am aware of its survey and the one conducted by the Food Standards Agency, which came out with somewhat different conclusions. Country of origin is an important aspect for consumers, as are price and food safety. All those matters should be addressed in labelling to ensure that the consumer can make an informed choice.

I am pleased to hear about the progress that has been made so far. We in Gloucestershire have excellent food and drink producers, and it is important for consumers to know where their food comes from. Is the FSA, whose survey the Minister referred to, absolutely at one with him on the importance of food labelling, and will the Government take forward that view in the negotiations with European partners?

We are in negotiations in Europe about the food information regulations, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware. Those discussions have been taking place for some months and will continue this year, with a view to producing regulations next year for implementation, I believe, in 2013. The Government are very much involved in trying to ensure that we have accurate country of origin labelling on products that the British consumer is interested in buying.

I am pleased with the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). However, several Government Departments and agencies have registered a fall in the proportion of British food that they buy. The latest figures that I can find are for 2007-08, when the Department for Children, Schools and Families, for instance, imported an awful lot of lamb and bacon and did not purchase many British apples. Can the Minister say why the latest figures have been delayed? Is he trying to bury bad news?

Maybe it is only me, but sometimes answering these questions makes me feel that I am playing Jim Hacker in the episode of “Yes Minister” in which he defends the British sausage. He was, of course, attempting to save his own bacon at the time.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the latest figures will be published shortly. Last year’s figures showed a 2 per cent. increase in public sector procurement of British food products, and I hope that we will see the same this year.

Britain’s best breakfast cereal, Weetabix, is made in the Kettering constituency, and the wheat for it comes from farms within a 50-mile radius. Why cannot Weetabix proclaim on every box that British breakfast cereals for British breakfasts are the best in the world?

I must confess that I was not aware that Weetabix is produced in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. However, that does explain why he has three Weetabix for his breakfast every morning in the Members’ Tea Room—I have seen the latest advert for Weetabix in which the jockey beats all the horses. I am sure that Weetabix will be listening to the hon. Gentleman. It is for producers to determine what they include in the way of labelling, but we are trying to encourage accurate country of origin labelling at the same time.

Will my hon. Friend give my greetings to the taskforce, and will he come shopping with me when I visit my local Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Tesco and Co-op? [Interruption.] If there were a Waitrose I would shop there, too. All those supermarkets now have on their shelves products across the whole range that have their origin on the label, in some cases including the county of origin. No discerning shopper these days can seriously claim that there is not a choice. The voluntary approach is the way to go, and it is working. Will he encourage the supermarkets even further down that route?

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for the date that she has offered me. I am sure that my wife will read Hansard with interest to confirm that it is a business appointment.

I commend my right hon. Friend because, as my predecessor, she started discussions on country of origin labelling with the retailers and officials in the Department as far back as January 2009. I congratulate her on that. Her activities pioneered the success that we have seen and that will come in future, and I will be happy to engage with her in terms of shopping.

One difficulty shoppers have is avoiding illegally produced goods from Israeli colonies, often called settlements, in the west bank. What are the Government doing to ensure that that illegally produced and exported food either does not enter the United Kingdom or, if it does, is properly labelled so that consumers like me can avoid it?

If my hon. Friend has not seen it—he may well have seen it—I can tell him that on 10 December the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued advice to retailers and importers who wished to respond to consumer demand for information about the origin of food produced in the occupied Palestinian territories. That means that consumers who buy food products that originate there will be able to distinguish between the produce of Palestinian farmers and that from the Israeli settlements. One of the largest retailers is already putting our advice into practice, and we hope that the rest will follow soon.