New Clause 21 - Labelling of fishery products

Fisheries Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 15th September 2020.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must, by regulations, ensure that all fisheries products offered for retail to the final consumer have appropriate marking or labelling to indicate—

(a) the commercial designation of the species as currently specified by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or its successors, and its scientific name;

(b) the production method, in particular identified by use of the terms ‘wild caught’, ‘caught in freshwater’ or ‘farmed’;

(c) the area in which the product was caught or farmed; and

(d) the category of fishing gear used in the capture of the fisheries product.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the area in which the product was caught or farmed is defined as follows—

(a) for fish caught at sea, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) catch area; and fish caught in the Northeast Atlantic, Mediterranean or Black Sea must be labelled with—

(i) the name of the FAO sub-area or division, and

(ii) a map or pictogram of the catch area;

(b) for freshwater fish—

(i) the country they were caught in, and

(ii) the name of the river or lake they were caught in; and

(c) for farmed fish, the country where they were harvested from the water when they reached their final size.”—

This new clause would require fisheries products to be labelled with categories of information for the consumer.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Labour’s new clause 21 would set in primary legislation the requirement to label all fish products offered for retail and to the final consumer with the origin and catch method. Retailers are reporting an uptick in demand for sustainably caught or produced food goods. The new clause would not only support the identification of sustainable fish products, but help British consumers identify and buy British fish.

As has been said multiple times in this Committee, negotiations between the EU and UK about fishing quota and tariffs are ongoing and we cannot tell at this point how they will conclude. However, the UK Government can act right now to help our UK fishing industry regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, and guaranteeing that their fish will be identifiable to UK consumers is one such action.

It should be easy to find out, when buying fish in the local supermarket, whether it is Scottish salmon, which is farmed in open net pens, or Chilean salmon, which has a lower rating for sustainability. At the moment under EU law, unprocessed fish must be labelled with the name of the species and the area in and method by which it was caught or farmed. The new clause will protect our UK fish product labelling regime from future trade deals. Last November, leaked documents showed the US’s hostility to food labelling, including front-of-pack nutritional labelling and foods with protected geographical status.

We have a chance in this Bill to set labelling regulations within primary legislation, which would ensure that UK produce is distinguishable in the future. Labour’s regulation would apply to all fisheries products sold in retail and catering, whether pre-packed, non-prepared or processed products. Our clause would give consumers more information about the catch method used to catch their dinner.

Under current legislation, only a general method such as trawl is needed. However, as we have discussed, a trawl can be very damaging. There is a clear difference between beam trawling and more sustainable forms of trawling such as mid-water trawling. Specific fishing gear refers to the detailed type of gear used, for example beam trawlers or purse seiners. Stating the category of fishing gear used in the capture of fisheries products would allow customers to differentiate between more and less sustainably caught products. When they are shopping for their dinner, it should be easy to figure out whether the fish in their fish fingers or their battered fillet was caught in British waters. Labour’s new clause would give British consumers more control over what they eat. Better labelling measures would lead to softer, market-based incentives for fish sustainability. If we are to have a world-leading, sustainable fisheries regime, we must act at every stage of the fish product supply chain, from net to plate.

Members will be pleased to know that this is the last new clause I will move today. Before I sit down, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Chairs— Mr McCabe and Sir Charles—as well as the Bill Clerks for everything they have done in Committee. I also thank the Minister and colleagues across the Committee for scrutinising Labour’s proposed amendments.

Today has not been uneventful: Conservative MPs broke with the norm, albeit in a very specified and limited way, to back Labour’s new clause 2. I hope that is a sign of things to come. I welcomed the thoughtful contributions of the former fishing Minister, the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby—he is not in his place, but I want to put that on record. Of course, I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, for Canterbury, for Coventry North West and for Lancaster and Fleetwood for their passionate advocacy of the UK fishing industry, coastal communities and marine environments. It has been a pleasure to speak on the Bill from the Opposition Front Bench.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee 3:30 pm, 15th September 2020

Before we move on, I should say that there will be an opportunity for colleagues to say other nice things after new schedule 1; we have one more schedule to get through.The Minister looks perplexed. Do not worry! Worry about that later.

Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Labour, Coventry North West

New clause 21 seeks to support UK fishing businesses and the UK fishing industry as a whole by allowing consumers to make informed decisions about buying sustainably sourced fish. That, as Sustain mentions, will give the British public greater confidence, clarity and certainty about the quality of the UK produce they are purchasing.

One of the Bill’s key aims is to restore and maintain UK fish stocks. We should be proud to label UK fishing produce, which will indicate to consumers that we are serious about restoring UK fish stocks, and maintaining them at sustainable levels. By labelling UK fishing produce caught in a sustainable way, consumers can make better choices for themselves and their families. It also creates best practice with regards to fishing activities.

The new clause would give assurances that the UK will not give in to outside interests that seek to weaken labelling regulations. I hope the Government will agree with the Opposition and support the new clause. By doing so, they would be sending a strong message to those who wish to water down our labelling regulations, as well as taking a further step in ensuring that the Bill is committed to sustainability and proper labelling practices.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am sorry to end on a slightly damp squib, but the new clause is really not necessary. Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, what the new clause seeks to do is already covered by legislation. We already comply with the European regulation 1379/2013 on a common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products, which will form part of retained EU law at the end of the transition period. The consumer information stipulated in the new clause is already required by the CMO regulation, so the proposal would simply duplicate the CMO’s labelling requirements.

I completely understand, however, what the hon. Member for Barnsley East says about the importance of labelling going forward. The Government are already committed to a serious and rapid examination of what can be done through labelling to promote high standards—and, indeed, high welfare—across the UK market for fish and agriculture. We will consult on that as soon as we are able to at the end of the transition period—we feel strongly about that—and I hope we will have her support in doing so.

Sir Charles, would you rather I said my nice words later?

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

Yes. We have one more bit of business to get through.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I jumped in too soon with the nice bits.

I thank the Minister for those comments. I understand her first point, but does her Department have plans to introduce regulations that require not just unprocessed fish but all fish products offered for retail to be labelled with where they come from and where they are caught? I urge the Government to be more ambitious on labelling, and to strengthen the labelling rules.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

May I intervene to answer the question? Fisheries and aquaculture products will continue to be labelled and marketed as before. We are rolling over the labelling and marketing provisions in the regulation, and they will become part of retained EU law. We want to give certainty to consumers and businesses, especially around alignment with existing markets, as we end the transition period. We are consulting on labelling and we are keen to do so, but any changes to the arrangements would need to be carefully considered.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The point of the new clause is to ensure that consumers have the information that they need to make choices, and so that they can choose sustainable fish and can buy British. On that note, I would like to vote on the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 0 Fisheries Bill [Lords] — New Clause 21 - Labelling of fishery products

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.