As a parliamentary hedgehog champion, it is a pleasure to follow Huddersfield’s very own Mr Tiggy-Winkle, Mr Sheerman.
I rise to speak to new clause 11 and amendment 37, tabled in my name and supported by colleagues, relating to the mandatory labelling of products with their farming method. Much of what we have heard already aims to put high animal welfare standards at the heart of this Bill. For the Committee stage, I tabled other amendments, including on labelling with the method of slaughter, but due to the truncated proceedings I can only raise one today, and trust that the Lords will consider others when the Bill passes to them. I hope the Government will be sympathetic to new clause 11 and amendment 37, given that they were first proposed in a previous incarnation of the Bill by the now noble Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, who is responsible for this legislation when it continues its passage in the upper House. Knowing him as well as I do, I doubt very much that a red box has changed his deeply held beliefs on animal welfare.
I believe that, ultimately, consumers are best placed to drive improvement in animal welfare standards because consumer demands and changing behaviours force the agriculture and supermarket sector to adapt. The substantial shift away from caged to free-range eggs is testament to this. At present, more than half of egg production in the UK is free range, with more and more restaurants and supermarkets phasing out their use and sale of caged eggs as public demand changes. I would argue that the legislation that required eggs and egg packs to be labelled with the farming method has undoubtedly helped to accelerate this change and that extending it to other products simply follows.
I firmly believe, now we have left the EU and as we prepare to exit the transition period, that the Agriculture Bill, along with the Environment Bill, provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that British agricultural standards are the best in the world. We can and should go beyond the current European framework and set a new standard for animal welfare. Greatly improved labelling for farming methods can be the first step in improving the availability of more ethically sourced food for a changing consumer market.
My new clause and amendment require the Secretary of State to make regulations regarding the labelling of meat, milk and dairy products as to farming method. At present, consumer demand is being impeded by lack of clear information at point of sale about how meat and dairy products have been produced. Therefore, British consumers are largely in the dark.
Plenty of consumer research has been carried out that shows an obvious want among the British public for clearer labelling to identify the farm system used to produce the food that we put on our plates. I am not sure I have heard any good reason why we should not label better, so I am hoping that the Government will either accept the amendment, or reassure me that they agree with the principle and will bring it back in an acceptable form in the Lords. There is nothing to fear from clearer, better labelling, especially as we have heard in other areas of this debate about the desire to set a new global standard for our agriculture sector.
Finally, I commend the work that has been achieved by colleagues at DEFRA. I believe that this Bill will go a long way to improving standards in the UK, but I think we need to trust the consumer and allow consumers to have the information that will drive their decisions about what they purchase. I hope that the Minister will look at my new clause sympathetically and accept it.