Amendment 236A

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 23rd July 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Mallalieu Baroness Mallalieu Labour 9:30 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, I share some of the concerns that the noble Baroness has just raised, but I take a different view about the need for mandatory labelling of animal products. I shall speak just to Amendment 258, in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord De Mauley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who will speak shortly.

On 29 June, Peers received an open letter from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, which said:

“The Government has committed to a rapid review and consultation on the role of labelling to promote high standards and animal welfare, and remains committed to delivering informative food and drink labelling and marketing standards to protect consumer interests, ensuring that consumers can have confidence in the food and drink they buy.”

I welcome that, and I thank the noble Lord, but I would like the Minister to tell us, first, what the word “rapid” means to Defra. Will he give us the proposed timetable for the initial consultation and the review, and then for publishing the proposals that follow, and for making the necessary regulations? My amendment suggests six months from the passing of this Act—which I hope will mean March 2021—for the earlier steps, and 12 months for the regulations to come into force, in about September 2021. I hope that he will agree with that.

The regulations on labelling are urgent because, as a result of the new trade deals we are, we hope, about to receive—they are being negotiated—we shall shortly see new products coming on to our markets from overseas. People will, as the letter says, need to have

“confidence in the food and drink they buy.”

That means they need to be confident that those meet the high standards that we were promised, but which the Government would not, apparently, put into the Bill.

The Government say that they are concerned about tackling obesity, encouraging healthy food choices, making more use of local produce, reducing food miles, limiting carbon outputs and improving animal welfare—and I am sure they are. But if consumers are not given the information on the packet, how are they to know where it comes from, how it was produced or whether it complies with any of those objectives?

I am also afraid that if you do not give sufficient information then, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has just suggested, consumers will simply select on price—some will do that anyway—and highest animal welfare standards considerations will simply not feature. The result will be that producers who meet high standards, which are usually more expensive, will simply go to the wall.

Consumers surely need to know the country of origin, particularly in these times. Amendment 254 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, makes that point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, with great force in our debates on Tuesday. That does not mean simply where the chicken was processed, but where it was reared. They need to know the method of production. We already do it for eggs; we have free-range, barn-reared, organic and so on, but we do not do it routinely for milk, meat or egg products. We should. The consumer needs to know whether his meat comes from a feedlot, was intensively reared or was pasture-fed. Some people will not care—they will just go for the cheapest—but more and more people do care and are looking. They could be told simply in words or, with enough publicity as to what they mean, through symbols.

The method of slaughter matters too, and to some members of the public it matters a great deal. I accept that this Bill is not the place to argue for the abolition of non-stun slaughter, which I very much want to see. However, it is the place to argue that consumer choice matters. Whether you require meat slaughtered in accordance with the requirements of your religion or meat which has been pre-stunned before slaughter because you have animal welfare concerns, you want to know, one way or the other, from the label of the joint you pick up at the supermarket. You want “confidence”, to use the Minister’s word, that you have picked the one you want and are getting the type of meat you selected. Will the Minister share his timetable and plans for doing what Amendment 258 suggests?