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Food and Drink (Miscellaneous Amendments Relating to Food and Wine Composition, Information and Labelling) Regulations 2021

Volume 812: debated on Wednesday 19 May 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Food and Drink (Miscellaneous Amendments Relating to Food and Wine Composition, Information and Labelling) Regulations 2021.

My Lords, this instrument is required to address inconsistencies in our food labelling rules arising from the UK’s departure from the EU. It deals with a number of EU exit-related issues, particularly technical standards, which are not critical but which were not able to be addressed before the end of the transition period. This instrument amends certain retained direct EU legislation, including general food labelling, the labelling of non-beef meats, the labelling of primary ingredients, the labelling of geographical indication products for wines and agri-foods, authorised analysis methods, and oenological practices for the production of wine sector products and rules on their labelling and marketing. It also amends certain pieces of domestic food legislation in England to ensure continued operability following the end of the transition period.

While this instrument introduces no changes to policy, there are some real-world effects on food and drink information and the way in which it is presented to consumers. Transitional provisions have been included in the instrument to enable businesses to adjust to the required changes. The instrument will, as far as possible, ensure that retained EU law and existing domestic law continue to have the same effect and ensures that consumers and businesses can provide and make use of information in the same way following the transition period.

In the area of food labelling, where our rules prior to the end of the transition period required a food label to include an EU address of the business responsible for the information on the label, this will now need to be a UK or Crown dependency address. This is needed to ensure a direct and simple way for consumers and trading standards officers to contact those responsible for a food and the information relating to it. In addition, where a specific country of origin is not provided for certain meats, terms such as “non-EU” will no longer be appropriate for the GB market and will be replaced by UK-appropriate terms.

On food compositional standards, UK caseins sold in business-to-business transactions will now have to be labelled with the address of the responsible business operator in the UK, and for honey blends comprised of honey from several countries, the term “a blend of honeys from more than one country” or similar wording can now be used. It continues to be acceptable to name specific countries of origin instead. The use of previous EU-centric terms on their own will no longer be acceptable.

For wines, this instrument will make certain changes to ensure that retained EU rules on wine labelling and marketing reflect the GB context and remove, as appropriate, EU-centric terms. Similarly, it will ensure that practices available to produce wine are also adapted to fit the products that can or could legally be produced in the UK.

For geographical indications, this instrument provides a period of adjustment regarding the use of GI terms on labelling, such as “protected designation of origin”, or PDO, and “protected geographical indication”, or PGI. This means that, for a period of three years or until wine products are exhausted, enforcement bodies are compelled not to take action if a product is labelled for sale as a wine or agri-food GI but is not in fact protected on our registers. This applies as long as that product name had been protected in the UK up until the end of the transition period and the GB labelling was compliant. It is expected that application of this provision will be very seldom, relating just to a small number of GIs included in trade deals that have not yet transitioned to a UK footing.

As well as geographical indication labelling, the instrument also introduces transitional arrangements to enable businesses to adjust to the changes required. Businesses will have until 1 October 2022 to comply with the food labelling changes on the English market, and wine products will be able to be marketed with EU or UK importer details until that date. The longer three-year period for GI labelling is to align with the same timeframe applying to the adoption of the new GI logo, set out in separate legislation.

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised two areas of interest regarding the use of EU origin designators on the GB market following the period of adjustment and what steps will be needed at the end of the period of adjustment to allow Northern Ireland food labelled as required for the Northern Ireland market to have unfettered access to the GB market, which we addressed accordingly with the Committee.

Despite this instrument delivering no substantive changes to policy, there has been stakeholder engagement, including public consultation on how the retained legislation should be reframed to fit the UK context and how those necessary changes should be approached. Views on changes to food information to consumers rules were sought under the “Food labelling: amending laws” consultation in 2018. Honey and caseins labelling options were considered in a separate public consultation in 2018 and in discussions during stakeholder meetings. There has also been regular consultation with the UK wine and spirits industry and with the designated competent control bodies: the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland.

I am pleased to say that the devolved Administrations have been informed throughout the making of this SI and that they are content. I beg to move.

My Lords, this legislation reads like a stopgap—a set of rules that will apply for a fixed period of time while more detailed solutions are sought. For that reason I want to concentrate on the route map that it sets out and, in particular, the impact it will have on the wine industry. I appreciate that rolling over the EU legislation has posited issues in this area: first, that rules on products placed in the EU market now apply to the UK as a third country since we left the EU; and, secondly, that the withdrawal Act itself does not grant the power to amend the EU rules at this stage.

The wine industry is very important to the UK economy. It provides around 130,000 jobs, generates £11 billion in sales annually and returns £4.4 billion in duty paid to the Exchequer. Our wine exports are the sixth most important food and drink products exported—ahead of beef, pork and beer—and those exports go mainly to the EU. While we have a burgeoning English and Welsh wine industry, we export only about 5,500 bottles a year of home-produced wine. The vast bulk of our wine exports are as a result of our importing bulk wines from the USA, Australia and Chile, bottling them in the UK and then exporting those bottles primarily to the EU. There is an obvious question I must ask the Minister in relation to the proposed Australia trade deal: with 24% of our non-EU wine imports coming in bulk from Australia—much for re-export into the EU—is the current wine trade deal we have with Australia under reconsideration? This is a sector that could damage our own export business if additional trade barriers were to be put in place in any new trade deal.

I understand that there are also issues relating to labelling for the re-exporting trade to the EU. The EU Commission has expressed concern that including details of a non-EU importer, bottler or producer address in addition to an EU importer, bottler or producer on the label of a wine placed in the EU market could be misleading and incompatible with EU law. I would be grateful if, in replying, the Minister could explain how the Government intend to resolve this difference of view between the UK and EU and what the major barriers are to a resolution. The UK drinks 10 million to 12 million bottles of wine a day, and we are the second largest importer in the world by volume, after Germany, and by value, after the USA. Given the importance of the industry and the fact that we are rolling over the EU regulations in this area—now as a third country—there are important issues about adding cost to the business activity.

At the end of the grace period, businesses will no longer be able to use one label for both the UK and EU markets. This affects the 56% of our wine that we import from the EU, which is about 6 million to 7 million bottles a day. That means 6 million to 7 million extra labels to be put on bottles every day, labels which will generally be placed on bottles by the EU exporter rather than the importer. EU wine exporters bottle their wine and then lay them on skins—that is, label-free. Labels are affixed after the purchase order has been received. The cost of producing and affixing each extra label runs to about 12p on average. Wines that are sold in limited quantities will require hand labelling, which is a much more expensive operation. That cost will be passed on to the importer and, ultimately, the consumer in this country. So, at a stroke, that is over £700,000 a day of extra cost passed on to GB wine businesses. While these regulations provide a grace period on EU imports, can the Minister explain whether the Government intend to review the dual labelling requirement before September 2022, so as to remove cost from the businesses working in this area?

Finally, I would like to examine the difference in these regulations between the requirements for wine and those of other food and drink importers. Under the EU regulations, all food and drink imports except for wine require the address of the operator responsible for the food information, under whose name or business name the food is marketed. The food business operator can be any business within the supply chain as long as they are an established business which will take legal responsibility for placing the goods on the market. This is a much more flexible approach than the requirement for wine. Making the rules for wine the same as other food and drink products would simplify the rules for producers, importers and enforcement bodies. Can the Minister state whether this is the Government’s intention? I recognise that I have asked some very technical questions, so I would be happy to receive a written reply if the Minister cannot reply to me in detail today.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the Commission on Alcohol Harm, and I previously chaired the 2006-07 Science and Technology Select Committee on allergy.

Having left the EU, we could be doing better to provide all the relevant information people need for their purchasing decisions. For those with a food allergy, labelling is essential to survival. The burden of allergy is in infants, in whom the prevalence is 5% to 7%. There is a range of manifestations, from a rash to life-threatening anaphylaxis. In adults, the prevalence is 1% to 2% and persists through life. The LEAP—Learning Early About Peanut Allergy—study built on desensitization. In addition, many adults have intolerance to some foods but do not have an IgE-mediated allergic reaction.

As there is no universal threshold amount that triggers an allergic reaction, some manufacturers resorted to defensive labelling, but this is of almost no help to those with an allergy. Although food labelling requires documenting known allergens—such as egg, milk, nuts, shellfish, fish and so on—the profile of allergens is changing. For example, the incidence of peanut allergy has risen dramatically in recent decades. Can the Minister reassure us that there will be flexibility in approach and that labelling will be reviewed in three years’ time?

Looking at the labelling of honey, will these regulations ensure that all honey is 100% pure honey from bees, and cannot be called “honey” if it is bolstered by syrups?

Eating out is particularly hazardous for those with food allergies. Teenagers and young adults sometimes take dangerously high risks when buying food, and we have heard of tragic deaths in young people all too often. Can the Minister explain how food outlets will be required to ensure that the food they serve is appropriately labelled, as it is not in these regulations?

The Commission on Alcohol Harm recommended better alcohol labelling. Currently, 80% of people do not know the Chief Medical Officer’s weekly consumption guidelines. Similarly, 80% of people are unaware of the calorie content of common drinks. They do not know that a small glass of wine has the same calories as three Jaffa Cakes or that one pint of beer is equivalent to eating a Mars bar. In the EU, alcohol has been exempt from labelling requirements that apply to all other food and drinks, so alcohol product labels are devoid of information on ingredients, calories, nutrition, drinking guidelines or health warnings. Covid-19 revealed that obesity is linked to high death rates. Severe obesity is rightly called “morbid obesity”. Information empowers consumers to take control of their health and make informed choices about what and how much they consume.

Research from the Alcohol Health Alliance has demonstrated the inadequacy of alcohol labels. Despite the Government’s efforts to encourage alcohol producers to reflect the drinking guidelines on labels, more than 70% of the labels reviewed did not include the up-to-date guidelines and only 7% displayed full nutritional information, including calories. Yet, when asked, 75% of people want the number of units in a product on alcohol labels, and 61% want calorie information.

The Government are committed to reducing obesity, so why are alcoholic drinks not included in the regulations? Why is only wine included and why does wine labelling restrict itself to the provenance of the wine? Will sulphites still have to appear on the label? They can be potent allergens. Better alcohol labelling should form part of an obesity strategy and a comprehensive alcohol strategy. If the role of food labelling is to inform, to empower people to protect themselves from harm and to allow regulation to support that duty to protect our citizens from harm, updating the labelling becomes a moral imperative.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness. I broadly welcome the regulations, but I have a number of questions. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on her clear introduction, but am I right that a grace period will now apply for the GB market until the end of September 2022, but there is no grace period for those products, particularly wine, being placed on the EU market from 1 January 2021? Those products now need to comply with the current EU labelling rules as we are a third country?

I am grateful to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association for its briefing in preparation for this afternoon. It has pointed other the SI includes a provision that means that businesses will no longer be able to use one label for the UK and EU markets at the end of the grace period—30 September 2022—for products placed on the GB market. It is calling on the Government to change the inherited EU wine labelling rules to allow businesses to use one label for both the UK and EU markets and to help ensure that the UK remains a hub for the world wine trade. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord German, for setting this out. I do not intend to repeat what he said, but this is a significant local, domestic and global trade.

There is a very simple plea from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association that the problem could be solved if the UK removed the requirement for the term “bottled by” or “imported by” and simply required a UK address on the label, as is currently allowed for food and drink, making one label acceptable for both the UK and EU markets. Otherwise, the rules as currently being rolled over will require a UK address on the label, preceded by one of the terms outlined in EU law, such as “bottled by”, with a UK address, or “imported by”, with a UK address. The EU will not accept any labels with those terms on if they are accompanied by the address of a third country.

For importers, either their producer will need to add a UK-specific label or a UK importer will need to have an over-sticker. Exporters will need to label stocks specifically for the EU market. This requirement for different SKUs for different markets means different labels, which, as the noble Lord, Lord German, pointed out, will increase costs for designing, printing and logistics. Simply put, if a business has 200 products, that means 200 additional labels. In addition, most businesses do not know where their stock is going when they add their labels. Over-stickering is very expensive for businesses as, in nearly all cases, it has to be done by hand. The more businesses have to change labels, the more expenses they need to incur. Businesses are usually given two years to allow for such label changes. I urge my noble friend the Minister to look very sympathetically on this idea of going to one label, as set out by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, in her summing up.

My noble friend the Minister also referred to the report prepared by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which said that those are real-world effects on food information and the way in which it is presented to consumers, as set out in the regulations. For example, in relation to the origin of meat—excluding beef, which is dealt with in separate legislation—the instrument will require the use of a non-UK, rather than a non-EU origin designator. That new requirement does not preclude the use of a designator showing the specific country of origin. I welcome the fact that a 21-month adjustment period is given to give businesses time to adjust to the new requirement, and also applies to Wales and Scotland.

I should like to put a question to my noble friend regarding the fact that consumers will no longer be able to tell whether meat, excluding beef, is from the EU or not after the adjustment period. That will have the potential to reduce the key information available at present about the origin of a product and, therefore, about associated food standards. In response to questions from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Defra told it that,

“further steps will be taken to continue unfettered access for Northern Ireland food products to the GB market”.

Can she set out what the separate measures will be and when they might be taken? Will the House have the chance to scrutinise them before they come into effect?

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, as I often seem to do in Committee. I should like to express the Green group’s support for the expert concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, both on the issue of allergens and the inadequacy of alcohol labelling.

The policy background paper for this statutory instrument states that the aim is,

“to provide and make use of the same information, presented in the same way as before.”

However, as the Minister said in her introduction, there are real-world implications in the regulations. There are changes in the information that will be available to consumers, which is why your Lordships’ House insisted that this Committee considers this SI, even though it was not considered in the other place. It is clear that it weakens the information going to consumers.

I shall start with honey. We are talking about shifting to a label that states, “A blend of honeys from more than one country”, or similar words. Knowing whether a honey is sourced from within the European Union or the rest of the world is a significant issue for a number of reasons. One issue to which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay referred is that honey is one of the most faked products in the world—by one ranking the third most-faked product. That problem is most common in countries that produce honey on an industrial scale, notably China. Historically, it was difficult to detect whether alleged honey had been adulterated or contained no honey at all, with substitutes such as corn syrup, rice syrup and palm sugar being used. This is an issue of transparency. Obviously, people should be getting what they actually pay for but this is also an issue of health. Rice syrup contains considerably higher levels of arsenic, which in many cases can be found in drinking water, for example. The fructose in corn syrup has issues around obesity, such as those to which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, referred.

There is also the issue of concern to many consumers regarding what bees have been eating to produce the honey and whether, in order to extract unsustainable amounts of honey, they are being fed sugars such as, again, corn syrup, which studies have shown are linked to colony collapse disorder. I note that just last month in the United States, thousands of commercial beekeepers started a major court case, highlighting their concern about the damage being done to them by imports from China.

So I would say that if we are shifting from “produced in the EU” to just “produced in a range of countries”, we are significantly reducing the information, the choice, available to consumers and preventing them making choices about health and the conditions under which their food is produced. While the European arrangements are no doubt far from perfect, they are stronger—there are more controls on the production of honey—than in the US, let alone other countries.

I come to the second group I will address, on meat issues. As the noble Lord, Lord German, mentioned, this brings us to the issue of a free trade deal with Australia. I note that in Prime Minister’s Questions this morning, responding to the right honourable Ian Blackford, the Prime Minister was sending very positive signals about a potential Australian trade deal and suggesting that we could be exporting Scottish beef to Australia. I would have to ask: what is the point in swapping meat, with all the environmental costs of shipping goods, particularly refrigerated goods, around the world? I should perhaps declare my position as an agricultural science graduate from an Australian university who has worked on Australian beef farms, and this really does seem to be sending coals to Newcastle.

Again, we come to non-beef meat and minced meat excluding beef. If we go from a label that says “produced in the EU” to “produced anywhere in the world”, we are providing consumers with less information. Surely this labelling could have been “produced in the UK”, “produced in Europe” or “produced in non-European countries”. Those three labels would have given consumers far better levels of information.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction and am grateful to her officials for providing a briefing on this extremely complex statutory instrument, which is all about the labelling of a wide variety of products. Although the Brexit transition period has finished, this is a transitional SI and covers an additional period, providing a 21-month adjustment period for businesses to be able to comply with import product labelling. The products under discussion are caseins, or milk products, which nobody has so far mentioned and which are the ones for human consumption, honey, meat and minced meat and trimmings, excluding beef, and wine.

The instrument concerns relabelling of products with the name of their UK importer and the information on prepacked food, including blended honey. The Explanatory Memorandum states at paragraph 2.12:

“EU-centric rules will not be appropriate for the UK.”

This may well be true for some people, but there are consumers who will want to know where the produce covered in this SI has come from and how it has arrived on market shelves. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, raised the issue of allergens, and it is extremely important that this information is included on labelling; I declare my interest as an allergy sufferer myself.

While trying to separate ourselves from the EU and its legislation, it is important accurately to reflect the provenance of consumables. As my noble friend Lord German indicated, much of the wine imported to the UK will be bottled here, relabelled and then exported again, mainly to the EU. The same is likely to happen to honey in terms of blending. I should like the Minister’s reassurance that honey, which has a particular identity and flavour and is produced in a specific locality, will be correctly labelled and not blended with inferior honey or syrup, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said. Such a practice of blending is likely to destroy, not enhance, consumer confidence.

Paragraph 12.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:

“There is no … impact on the public sector.”

However, trading standards officers will be inspecting wine and prepacked food to ensure that it is correctly labelled as to the proper UK importer. Therefore, there will be additional work for the local authority officers. However, trading standards officers are not permitted to take any action if they find that products have not been correctly labelled until after the end of the transition period. I find this disturbing.

While I understand that this is to allow businesses to make a smooth change to their labelling, there is a likelihood that this could lead to confusion and misinformation not being dealt with but left until the very last date before enforcement action could be taken. Does the Minister think this is acceptable?

I have one very serious issue that I wish to raise. On Monday, during the debate on the Queen’s Speech, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park—gave an assurance to those Peers who raised issues concerning animal welfare that the UK intended to be a world leader in that area. Paragraph 7.6 of the EM refers to meat excluding beef. Its last sentence states:

“Instead, the amended legislation will allow the use of ‘non-UK’ where the country in which the period of rearing specified in this legislation according to species is not available or the indication ‘several countries’ in the case of meat reared in several non-UK countries.”

This is very confusing, and I apologise for that, but it is not my Explanatory Memorandum.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, referred to the importation of meat and meat products. Does the Minister believe that there is a golden thread that puts animal welfare at the heart of all Defra’s work and that this statutory instrument upholds this view and ensures that meat reared in non-UK countries will indeed have come from animals reared in accordance with UK standards and not from inferior rearing practices? Unless she can give this reassurance, all the Government’s words on animal welfare are fairly meaningless. This apart, I support this statutory instrument.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for arranging the very helpful briefing with her officials in advance of today’s debate. This SI is, clearly, largely about labelling, and the Minister referenced the “real world” effects on consumers that may occur. However, I draw attention to paragraph 2.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which shows that these “real world” effects are minor. As already raised in the other place, we are not convinced that all of these effects are necessarily minor. The changes provided for in the SI, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, reminded us, were originally presented as a negative instrument, which was then recommended for upgrade to the affirmative procedure by the sifting committee, as the subject matter was considered sufficiently sensitive as to need to be properly considered.

There has been a lot of discussion about honey, so I am going to consider meat labelling at this point. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, pointed out that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee noted that meat, excluding beef, will be labelled as “non-UK” rather than “non-EU”. While we accept that some EU-centric terms or rules may no longer be wholly appropriate after the transition period, moving towards a system where food items are labelled merely as “non-UK”, rather than “non-EU”, risks an overall decrease in the information available to consumers. The committee was quite specific on this point. It stated that

“as consumers will no longer be able to tell whether meat (excluding beef) is from the EU or not after the adjustment period, this may have the potential of reducing key information that is available at present about the origin of a product and therefore about the associated food standards.”

I support the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, about the potential impact on animal welfare. These may well be unintended consequences of the changes, but these are consequences that really need to be looked at when we consider the higher standards of production in the EU compared with many other countries. Why do the Government wish to remove this information from labels?

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee also pointed out, as has already been mentioned, that, after the adjustment period, different requirements will apply in GB and Northern Ireland, where EU requirements will continue to apply as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol—as with so many other SIs we have debated. Defra did tell the committee, as we have heard, that further steps will be taken to continue unfettered access for NI food products to the GB market, so perhaps I can also ask the Minister, as other noble Lords have, whether she could outline what these steps will be.

On devolution, the changes relate to England, with similar provisions planned by Wales and Scotland. As it has been some time since the SI was first tabled, can the Minister provide any update on progress in the devolved Administrations?

Consultation is an area in which I am always particularly interested. I was pleased to note that this was mentioned by the Minister in her opening remarks. The Explanatory Memorandum, in paragraph 10, does make it clear that the consultation was some time ago, at the end of 2018.

I will mention briefly the changes to wine labelling. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, is not entirely happy, and the noble Lord, Lord German, explained in great detail the importance of the wine industry, so I will not go into any detail. Paragraph 10.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum talks about “regular contact”, so, again, perhaps I could ask the Minister for a little more information on this because, as I have just mentioned, the consultation was some time ago and it would be helpful to have an update on the kinds of discussions with industry organisations that have taken place since then.

Paragraph 12 of the Explanatory Memorandum also talks about the changes for businesses contained in the instrument. Costs were mentioned by other noble Lords and, while they may not meet the threshold that requires publication of an impact assessment, changing labelling laws undoubtedly presents logistical and financial challenges, in particular for smaller producers. So perhaps I can ask the Minister whether Defra has estimated such costs and whether she will be able to provide us with details. Clearly this is something that she may well not have at her fingertips, so I would be very grateful if she could write to me with more detail.

Finally, the new rules are quite complex—this came across in the briefing we had with officials yesterday—with the varying transitional periods and adjustments, so what support has been put in place for not just industry but trading standards? In conclusion, we do not oppose these changes, but believe that some of the potential consequences should be given greater consideration.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate, in particular for the questions they have asked that raise important issues. Some of them I cannot answer today, but I will write with further details if I have not been able to cover everything.

To ensure the continued operability of our food labelling rules and to reflect the fact that the UK is no longer a member of the EU, it is important that we amend certain retained and domestic food legislation and provide transitional arrangements to allow businesses time to adjust.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked a number of questions about wine. Wines that are exported to the EU would be required to meet areas of the label that are considered mandatory under EU labelling requirements. These requirements are for wines that have been rebottled here. They include indications of the provenance—for example, “Wine of Australia” et cetera—alcoholic strength, the category of wine, lot marking and so on. As with foods, wines marketed in GB will also have to have a GB-based importer or bottler on the label. To allow time for the sector to adjust, we have included that easement until 30 September 2022, and during that time we will continue to work with the industry to find a long-term solution to the issue of potentially having to produce two labels. We will look for practical solutions that will allow two importers to be shown on a single label, where necessary, but make them distinguishable to address the EU’s concerns. We will look at all options for labelling importers on wines, including alignment with horizontal rules.

The fine wine trade is an unusual industry, as the noble Lord knows, in terms of its marketing practices, with wines traded widely for years after production. We are aware of the unique challenges that certain areas of the wine industry face. The easement and transitional measures will, for the time being, address any concerns, but we will consider this in the interim. It is fair to say that both the UK, as possibly the single largest trader in fine wine today, and the EU, as the largest fine wine producer, have a vested interest in finding a solution.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked a number of questions relating to obesity and calorie labelling, and asked why we are not using this opportunity to make more substantive changes to food labelling law in the UK. The purpose of this legislation, along with other exit SIs, is to maintain operability of retained EU law in the UK, and legislative action beyond that function is prescribed under the powers used to make this SI. More substantive changes, should we choose to make them, will follow an appropriate period of consultation and assessment involving all interested parties.

We have the opportunity to review food and wine labelling now that we are no longer bound by EU rules to ensure that information supports consumers’ choices and the marketing of quality British food and wine products. The opportunity to review food labelling will include careful consideration of the findings in the final report of Henry Dimbleby’s independent review of the food system, due later this year. The Department of Health is planning to issue a consultation on calorie labelling for alcohol in the near future with a view to making it a requirement from perhaps 2024, which may be reassuring to the noble Baroness. Specific proposals on this will be consulted on later this year.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Bennett, and a number of other noble Lords referred to honey. All honey available in the UK market complies with our strict rules and the addition of syrups is prohibited in those regulations. Honeys from particular locations or special floral origins are not blended since they lose their value in the market, and if they are, they can no longer be referred to by their specific origin in the label. The noble Baronesses also asked whether consumers would be less well informed about where the honey they buy comes from. Consumers will still be aware that the honey consists of a variety of honey from differing origins even though they will not be able to distinguish blends of European honey from non-European blends, but businesses would be free to supplement the label with this additional information.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, also asked a question on why we did not use this opportunity to make more substantive changes to the food labelling law in the UK, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and she asked about what engagement we had had with industry. A public consultation entitled “Food labelling: amending laws” was held and promoted to food industry stakeholders at the end of 2018, and the government response was published on 5 February 2019. Alongside this we have released a broader Defra communication about food information to consumers on labelling in a no-deal scenario. Discussions continued via a range of stakeholder meetings, where industry and trade associations were encouraged to share information about their plans to adjust labelling on pre-packaged food for the UK and EU markets to flag other no-deal changes that might have affected their labelling, and to give views on what government can do to help businesses make the required labelling amendments.

We have maintained a constant dialogue and engagement with key wine production, trade and enforcement organisations in the time leading up to the end of the transition period. We have been in regular contact with the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and WineGB, which represent the majority of wine sector businesses in the UK, and the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland, the designated competent controlled bodies. So these discussions are ongoing, which I hope will also be of comfort to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

The noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Bennett, asked how EU-centric labelled food from Northern Ireland would be provided unfettered access to GB after the period of adjustment. This will be considered during the period of adjustment. Goods meeting the legal criteria of qualifying Northern Ireland goods will be allowed unfettered access into the GB market. This will be considered further, and implementation, including how it is administered, will be determined and informed through consultation with Northern Ireland businesses and UK enforcement authorities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked why we are not allowing mincemeat placed on the GB market to continue to use “origin EU” as a permitted alternative to the specific country of origin. Since we are no longer a member state of the EU, the rules on labelling must treat food from EU countries the same as that from other WTO countries. This means that, for example, where for mincemeat from outside the UK the specific country of origin is not given, the correct indication is “non-UK”. To provide for a special indication for meat from the EU would be seen as more favourable treatment than for other WTO countries and therefore contrary to WTO most favoured nation rules. This position also aligns with UK law already in place for a range of other foods, including beef and veal, and it is important for both business and consumers that the rules for different foods remain consistent.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about paragraph 7.11 in the Explanatory Memorandum. This specific provision applies only if the product would have been correctly labelled and complied with the law in GB immediately before the end of the transition period. It essentially provides a period of adjustment both for enforcement bodies and for producers to use up already labelled stock.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Hayman, asked an important question about whether this was part of Defra’s golden thread of legislation to improve animal welfare outcomes. This SI makes necessary changes immediately related to the EU legislation being retained as per ministerial undertakings in relation to the EUWA powers under which it is to be made. Measures around the Government’s ambition to improve animal welfare outcomes are being taken forward separately. Defra’s animal welfare team would be very happy to put your Lordships in touch with those leading on the consultation on animal welfare-related food labelling.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about the assessment of cost to the industry. The purpose of this SI is to make legislation retained by the withdrawal Act operable in the UK context. There are no other changes to the effect of retained legislation other than operability and, therefore, no significant impacts that stem specifically from this SI. During the consultation held, business expressed a wish for a reasonable period of adjustment to the changes so that they could be made as part of normal packaging cycles and to enable stocks of existing packaging to be exhausted. The 21-month or 36-month periods of adjustment provided in the SI allow for this.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, also asked about consultation with the devolved Administrations. Amendments to retained direct EU legislation will apply across the UK, although not in Northern Ireland because of the Northern Ireland protocol. Wales and Scotland have provided formal consent and, while formal consent is not required from Northern Ireland, it has been consulted. England-only provisions enabling a period of adjustment for labelling in England will align with similar provisions planned for Wales and Scotland.

To wrap up on the consultation that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, talked about, I just reassure her again that we have released a broader Defra communication about food information to consumers and discussions are continuing via a range of stakeholder meetings. Industry and trade associations are encouraged to share information about their plans to adjust labelling on pre-packaged food in the UK and the EU markets, to flag other no-deal changes that may affect their labelling and to give views on what the Government can do to help business make the required labelling amendments.

With that, I reiterate my thanks to all noble Lords for contributing to this debate. Any questions that I have not been able to answer at the Dispatch Box I will answer in writing.

Motion agreed.

As we do not seem to have the Minister for the debate on the next statutory instrument—we have the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Mann—I will adjourn the Grand Committee until the Minister is here.

Sitting suspended.