British Agriculture and Food Labelling

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:09 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Minister (Health) 9:09 pm, 24th February 2009

Well, it was uncompetitive from our point of view, of course.

Some 10 years later, we still have bar-coding technology and a voluntary code for supermarkets that is not working, despite our praise for their promotions of British production from time to time. We have heard the Government using the same words that they use in the motion today, which is distinct from the mandatory introduction that we propose. They are simply calling for better food labelling provisions, and they are calling on the EU to do something. That has not worked, and in the context of the commoditisation of food production of premium products in this country, our farmers have been left in an unfair position. That is why we have to argue strongly for food labelling. This is not just a narrow point, because it brings to a head many of the issues that give us a fair position in the marketplace, give our farmers a fair chance to compete, and above all, allow the consumer to make an informed choice. That informed choice will ensure that consumers can give the support to the British farmers that they often want to give, but it will be a choice.

I have been much encouraged by some of the statements by the Secretary of State and the Minister, but unfortunately the situation has always collapsed when it comes to actually changing the law. The Government's approach has shown a clear obsession with the consumer interest and negligence of the producer interest. In fact, the interests of consumers and the nation are best served by ensuring that consumers have an informed choice, and that they have the abilities that we propose.

I shall not run through the detail of what can be done legally, because it is in our motion and our plans, which I am glad the Minister has read in detail. I suggest that, as we have argued for many years, the Government get some new advice, for goodness' sake try, and above all show leadership. Many people have argued that we need to ensure that we gain the benefits that the EU gives us in the marketplace, but it has absolutely failed to provide leadership in this area. Instead, there has been followership. The EU has followed the pace of the slowest performer across Europe.

The Government have been given much information and many warnings over the past 10 years, and they need to represent our farmers, who are some of the most high-quality, efficient farmers in the world, let alone Europe. We need to ensure that those farmers get a proper chance to compete and to supply the market. We need leadership from the Government, in the lawful way proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs in his cogent speech. That is the way forward, and it is our policy. The Government should forget pride of authorship and whatever advice they have been given over the past 10 years, which has clearly been wrong. We want to see our policy delivered, and frankly, we are quite happy for the Government to steal it. If they do not introduce it, we will. I hope that the chance will come soon.

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