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Food: Labelling

Volume 694: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they propose to extend the country of origin definition in respect of food labelling.

My Lords, food labelling is an area of EU competence. The European Commission is conducting a review of food labelling, and country of origin requirements are being considered as part of this. The UK has already indicated to the Commission that in principle it is in favour of an extension to the rules, subject to satisfactory cost-benefit analysis.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a British farmer and grower. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree with me that British shoppers would prefer to buy food from British farms. At the moment, it is possible for all the constituent parts of a processed product to be produced abroad and for it still to be labelled as British if it is processed or packed here. What does the Minister propose to do to close that loophole?

My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree that we all prefer to buy British produce from British farmers and producers whenever possible. The FSA produces assisting guidance, as the noble Lord may be aware. It advises, for example, that bacon produced from imported pork should be labelled “Made from Danish pork cured in Britain” or something similar. FSA guidance is extremely important. All the issues raised by the noble Lord will be taken into account in the context of the European Commission review, because we want to ensure that more people buy British whenever possible.

My Lords, given that Welsh lamb exported to France and butchered there can be labelled as French, what is being done to make certain that the French understand that it is Welsh not French lamb?

My Lords, the fact that these are European rules should mean that they are consistently applied throughout the European Union; therefore, I hope that the standards will be upheld in France as they are in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, will Her Majesty’s Government, as part of the EU review, recommend that, across the EU, product-origin marks be given solely to meat from animals born, reared and slaughtered in the same country?

My Lords, I am sorry for a very tedious reply but, again, the review will look at whether it will be cost-effective and appropriate for a label to give information about where meat products are reared and so on.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, whatever legal requirements come from Brussels, many people in this country would like not only that producers label their products as being of British origin, but to know how local they are to the point of purchase. The success of farmers’ markets indicates that people want to buy not just British but as local as they can. Will the Government encourage supermarkets and producers voluntarily to label in such a way that we know just how local a product is?

My Lords, producers are at liberty to put that information on their products now. As the noble Lord suggests, it is a voluntary scheme. As I shop in many farmers’ markets and in supermarkets I note that more and more products indeed have labels going into great detail about the locality in which they are produced. I, for one, always buy those products.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I introduced country of origin markings legislation in 1980 but subsequently it had to be withdrawn because the EU described it as a non-tariff barrier? I am delighted to hear that it appears to be changing its mind. I hope, too, that it will change its mind about the ridiculous E numbers in foods, which cover up a number of toxic substances and are incomprehensible to the public.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her far-sighted proposed legislation in the previous Conservative Government. I note what she says about E numbers, but that is a rather different question.

My Lords, what progress is being made in ensuring that food grown in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, including the settlements, is labelled as grown in Palestine and not labelled as Israeli?

My Lords, I do not have that specific information to hand but I know that Her Majesty’s Government pay great attention to it. We want to ensure that more people are aware of produce that is produced by Palestinians in their territories.

My Lords, further to the Minister’s first reply, if the EU decides not to change the present circumstances, what will the Government do about it?

My Lords, as ever, the Government will make very firm, strong and robust representations in the European Union.