UK - Tough food labelling

Tough food labelling rules to stop cheap imports being passed off as British could be extended after Euro MPs voted to give shoppers more information about where food comes from. In a victory for the Western Morning News' Think Local campaign, the European Parliament backed calls for country of origin labelling laws to be widened. Farmers and producers in the Westcountry have long argued that they are put at a competitive disadvantage by more stringent – and more expensive – welfare laws than countries which then claim to be offering "British" produce. At present, producers must include details of provenance only on certain foods, such as beef, honey, olive oil and fresh fruit and vegetables. But yesterday MEPs in Strasbourg voted to extend this to all meat, poultry, dairy products and other single-ingredient products, ready meals and other processed food after widespread concern that cheap, low quality meat was being passed off as British. The new coalition Government has taken a tough stance on labelling. In opposition the Conservatives launched an Honest Food campaign, highlighting examples of supermarkets using packaging featuring the Union Flag or phrases like "British favourites" on imported goods. Earlier this month new farming minister Jim Paice told the WMN that having secured a voluntary deal with supermarkets over their own brand products, he was targeting household name brands which con shoppers into thinking they are buying British. Under the proposals backed by the European Parliament, meat labels must also show where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered. After yesterday's vote the issue now goes back to EU ministers for more negotiations. Meurig Raymond, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union, said the result was an "important victory". "It has been clear for some time that the current guidelines aren't working on food labelling so we have been working hard to keep country of origin labelling high on the political agenda. "Labelling needs to provide accurate, clear and relevant information so consumers can make an informed choice. People who want to buy great British food want to be certain that is exactly what they are getting." Pressure for clearer labelling has intensified in recent years. The Women's Institute last month passed a motion calling for the mandatory clear labelling of all meat, poultry and fish with its true country of origin. The vote came as part of a package of measures on the information consumers are given about food. Campaigners voiced dismay after Euro-MPs rejected the most popular form of food nutrition labelling – a "traffic-light" colour coding system already in wide use. Instead the European Parliament voted for an alternative system of "Guideline Daily Amounts" (GDAs), in the wake of intense food industry lobbying. The traffic light system involves marking food packaging with red, amber or green symbols depending on the levels of sugar, fat and salt in the contents.

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