To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to ensure that the labelling and packaging of animal-derived products does not mislead consumers as to how those animals were reared.
My Lords, it is against the law to mislead consumers about any aspect of food. Methods of production for eggs and poultry meat are defined and the use of various assurance schemes helps to identify that animal health and welfare standards have been met. While legal definitions are not in place, information can be given voluntarily and trading standards is responsible for ensuring that this does not mislead.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I know he feels the same way as I do on many of these issues, but it is not right that consumers are still misled. The area where that happens the most is illustrations on packaging. Will the Government use the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 to tie down and tighten up these procedures far more? If the Government do not feel that those are sufficient, will they introduce additional measures in their agriculture Bill?
As your Lordships will know, many of these rules are subject to EU regulation. I am absolutely clear that no produce should be labelled in any way that misleads the consumer. As the noble Lord has said, under the Health and Harmony consultation into the agricultural way forward we have consulted on that, and we are considering whether there are better ways in which labelling could satisfy the consumer better.
In a similar vein, would my noble friend ensure, particularly post-Brexit, that animal feed is also labelled and that such labelling is shown to be as accurate as possible, to make sure that cattle feed in particular is also something the consumer can rely upon?
My Lords, I shall certainly take back what my noble friend has said. It is clear that we have some of the best food standards in the world. We are exporting much larger numbers— £22 billion in the food and drink sector—so it is vital for our reputation that all provenance of seeds and food is of the highest order.
My Lords, according to Which?, one in six Americans get food poisoning whereas the figure in the UK is only about one in 66. Will the Government introduce a mandatory food labelling scheme post-Brexit so that consumers can make an informed choice about the country of origin, as well as the welfare standards, of the meat products they will be consuming so they can keep their families safe?
My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness knows that with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill we are bringing back all the requirements under our domestic legislation, and of course that requires that countries of origin should be on the label.
My Lords, does the Minister believe that the Food Standards Agency’s plan to privatise the inspection of food producers will give consumers confidence in the safety of their food? Does he agree that the plan for producers to choose and pay for their own inspector and agree the remit and frequency of their inspection is rather like letting them mark their own homework? How will that encourage the rest of the EU to continue to import British food after Brexit?
My Lords, as I said, we have some of the highest standards in the world. We will continue to have some of the highest standards in the world. That is why we are exporting ever more produce in the food and drink sector. The Food Standards Agency is required to protect public health and consumers’ wider interest in food. That is its remit and it will continue to do so.
My Lords, does my noble friend think that consumers are also entitled to know how their meat has been slaughtered—hopefully, by the humane method of pre-stunning—and that it should be labelled?
My Lords, I understand what my noble friend says. We are clear that we understand the public concern that people should be eating meat from animals in the way that they would wish. We will be looking at labelling as a post-Brexit opportunity, as I said, and this is one area that we can consider.
My Lords, I am well aware that I am speaking on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, but I think I should take advice from colleagues in that department.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister knows the term “barn-raised chickens”. It sounds very cute and cuddly, but in fact under that designation nine chickens can be squashed into one square metre. Does the Minister think that that might be a little misleading for the general public?
My Lords, that is why in this country we have the largest free-range flocks in Europe. The definition of eggs, as compared with other food products, is one of the legal definitions, precisely so that the consumer knows the difference between free range and barn.
My Lords, as I said, we understand the concern of consumers. That is why, as part of a general labelling review, we will consider the opportunities in this regard.
My Lords, I declare my interests in the register on this matter. In his Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the Minister talked about the role of trading standards. The noble Baroness, Lady Browning, raised the issue of animal feed, which is also largely monitored by trading standards. Can he tell us by what proportion the budgets of trading standards departments have been cut in the past seven years—spoiler alert, it is more than 50%—and can he further tell us how many statutory requirements trading standards are now expected to enforce with that much reduced workforce?
My Lords, as the noble Lord rather anticipated, I understand the figures he raises but I do not have the precise figures in front of me. Trading standards departments are undertaking a very effective job, and I could give him examples of a number of recent prosecutions where they have ensured that their job is done extremely effectively. That is to enforce product safety and prevent fraud such as mislabelling of food, and they are doing an effective job.
The noble Earl raises an important issue, which is that we want to reduce the use of antibiotics in the agricultural sector. I must say that, two years ahead of target, that has been achieved. It is really important that this country is one of the world-leading reducers of the use of antibiotics, and we need to continue that trend.