Calls for clearer food labelling

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 8th January 2009

British Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has called on supermarkets and food companies to give shoppers clearer information on where their food comes from.He made the call as he urged people to buy more local produce and stressed that protecting the environment is vital to increasing food production.

“When you buy a car you know its service history. When you buy a house you get a detailed survey. So why do we accept knowing so much less about what we are putting into our bodies?” Mr Benn said at the Oxford Farming Conference. “Under current European regulations, a pork pie processed in Britain from Danish pork can legitimately be labelled as a British pie. That’s a nonsense and it needs to change.”

The issue of food labelling remains a major talking point around the world as globalisation has led to considerably more food exportation and issues of food safety continue to crop up – most recently contaminated jalapenos found in the US, the melamine scandal in China and Irish pork. Combined with an increased focus on local food – led by concerns over ‘food miles’ – country of  origin labelling has begun to filter into a number of countries and a number of industries.

Mr Benn said that while the Government was pressing in Europe to improve labelling so that it shows where an animal is born, reared and slaughtered, he planned to meet food industry representatives to discuss how they could “get ahead here by voluntarily introducing country of origin labelling.”

“I want British agriculture to produce as much food as possible. No ifs, no buts,” he added. “We could produce more fruit and vegetables here in the UK – the market is there, so what’s holding us back? If there’s demand then production should follow. So the answer is to buy more British and eat more British.”

Mr Benn sugegsted that food security was part of a global challenge in which environmental protection and increasing production went hand in hand. “The idea that protecting our soil, our water, our habitats, our landscape, and the very climate on which all of these depend, and encouraging production, are in competition with each other is to miss the point completely. Why? Because our long-term food security depends on looking after those things,” he advised. “It’s about looking after the land today to sustain our capacity to produce food tomorrow.”

He also indicated that support could be provided to farmers who reduce carbon emissions, while querying EU proposals to restrict the use of certain ingredients in commonly used pesticides. “No-one can say for sure what their impact will be. That’s why I have been arguing against the pesticides regulation which could hit yields by limiting the crops that can successfully be grown in the UK for no recognisable benefit to human health, which I take very seriously.”