British Agriculture and Food Labelling

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:32 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Photo of David Jones David Jones Shadow Minister (Wales) 9:32 pm, 24th February 2009

My hon. Friend Bill Wiggin has asserted with absolute confidence that the finest beef in the world comes from his constituency. I am pleased to assert with similar confidence that the finest lamb in the world comes from my constituency. Generations of farming families in Clwyd, West have applied their hard work and expertise to creating a unique, high-quality product. It is therefore entirely understandable that those farmers should feel incensed that the laws of this land are so haphazard that they allow meat products from other parts of the world to be described quite legitimately as having been produced in Wales or in the UK when the only acquaintance of such meat with these shores is that the animal has been brought here for slaughter and processed.

That is, in a very real sense, theft. It is the theft of the good will built up by generations of British farmers in producing a high-quality product that people want to buy. They want to buy it because it tastes better, because they know that it has been produced in clean conditions without undue suffering to the animal, and has not been stuffed full of growth hormones and antibiotics. They also know that it has been produced reasonably locally and is not contributing to excessive carbon emissions by being flown half way across the world. Under present arrangements, however, those consumers are being cheated. The label says one thing, but the truth may be entirely different. Under the present arrangements, the consumer does not have a clue about the true origins of the meat being put on his plate. That, on any analysis, is an outrageous state of affairs.

The Government acknowledge in their amendment that

"clear and unambiguous labelling stating the country of origin of the major ingredients for meat and meat products would level the playing field for British farmers and enable British consumers to show a preference for food which is produced to high standards of animal welfare".

However, expressing that pious belief does nothing to improve the current regrettable state of affairs.

The Government say that it is to the benefit of consumers if supermarkets and retailers comply with the FSA guidance on country of origin labelling, but the difficulty is that the guidance is just that—guidance. It is not mandatory, and the preamble makes it clear that compliance with the advice on best practice is not required by law.

In any event, the guidance notes are widely ignored by retailers. For example, they suggest that

"to describe a rabbit pie that is made in the UK from imported rabbit as 'Produced in the UK' would not be best practice."

However, typical of the supermarket response to the guidance is that of Tesco, which was quoted in The Independent on 30 January 2009 and said that

"'produced in the UK'... will be in small writing on the back of the pack and is intended only to indicate where the food has been produced. It is not used in a way that suggests any of the ingredients are British and is not used to market the food as a 'British' product."

Well, clearly it is.

The current state of affairs is unsustainable. It is nothing short of a disgrace that supermarkets and processors are at liberty to plaster food products with Union flags or Welsh dragons and say that they are produced in the UK or in Wales when they are not British and could not, even on the most charitable interpretation of either adjective, be described as such.

The Opposition motion certainly should be supported. Proper food labelling is urgently needed and long overdue. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House who have expressed sympathy with the motion to vote for it. I have no doubt that we will be applauded by the consumer and the food producer alike.

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