Norfolk MP’s fight for fairer food labelling

Consumers could receive more information about the food they eat with supermarkets and butchers forced to state the country of origin of meat they sell, if a campaign spearheaded by a Norfolk MP is successful.

Richard Bacon, who is leading a campaign to change the law to make it clearer where our food comes from, said producers were not required to tell consumers where the animals used to produce the meat they were selling had been born, raised and slaughtered.

The South Norfolk MP said packaging on ready meals was often designed to suggest the meat was British while containing the label 'produced in Britain'.

But the meat itself had come from elsewhere and consumers had a right to know its origin, he said.

Mr Bacon said his Food Regulations (Amendment) Bill would require all sellers to explicitly say where the meat they were selling had come from.

He said he believed the Government supported his legislation, while he did not think European regulations prevented his Bill becoming law.

Last night his call was backed by farmers and campaigners who said it could help to promote locally produced food.

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'My Bill just seeks to do one thing,' Mr Bacon said. 'I just want consumers to know where meat comes from. Know where it comes from; not think, or guess or hope, but know.

'If producers say on the label meat is British it should actually be British.'

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, he said the current rules did not do their 'job adequately' and 'consumers continue to be mislead'.

But the fate of the Bill was unclear as time for debate ran out yesterday, meaning the legislation now slips back in to the list of Private Members' Bills and stands little chance of making progress.

Roger Long, Norfolk representative of the NFU's regional livestock board, said the current situation was a disgrace, and he wholeheartedly supported the MP's campaign, and urged the government not to let the matter drop.

'It needs to be changed to back British farming so that housewives know what they are getting,' Mr Long said. 'At present they are being completely hoodwinked. Some supermarkets have started to address this by having their own food champions from their own areas, but labelling needs to be clarified and simplified to show what is what.'

Jane Miller, managing director of Produced in Norfolk, said consumers could also play a part in getting the law changed.

'The public have got to demand British meat and British goods before the supermarkets change the way they operate,' she said. 'I appreciate there are people who need to buy cheap meat, but if we all bought British the price would come down. It astonishes me that our supermarkets aren't choc-a-bloc with meat from East Anglia.'

Mr Bacon added: 'There are foodstuffs where no indication will be given that the product is made with imported meat such as with a Tesco's chicken dinner and a range of children's meals that simply states 'produced in the UK' when the chicken actually comes from Thailand.

'Sometimes a phrase will be used to imply country of origin, for example Birds Eye's 'Great British Menu' which turns out on closer inspection to be made with imported meat. And at present producers of imported meat can lawfully use the Union Flag on packaging to imply that the product is British when it is not and they do so.'

Shadow environment minister Gavin Shuker said there were some problems with the Bill but he supported its aims.

But Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said he was concerned that Mr Bacon's Bill would not be passed due to European law.

Junior environment minister Richard Benyon said the Government was working at European level to change labelling rules.

'We are developing a framework for more honest food labelling, especially for the origin of meat in food,' he said. 'This is an area where the Government has been very active in the past year.

'There is a food labelling regulation being discussed in Europe and the Government has been extremely successful so far by including in the current text an extension of the rules making origin labelling to fresh and frozen meat mandatory.

'We are tightening the rules where origin claims are made and leaving the door open to further mandatory labelling subject to a European Commission feasibility report.'

There was also a voluntary code of practice on improved origin labelling, he added.

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