The new Food Minister Jim Paice yesterday called on the British food industry to be more honest in its “place of origin” food labelling after years of controversy over cheap imported foreign meat being labelled home grown.
There have been a series of scandals over recent years because food processors have been importing meat and poultry from abroad – where animal health and hygiene standards are much lower than in the UK – and using it in pies, sausages and other produce labelled made in Britain.
These included turkeys imported from Hungary involved in a major outbreak of avian flu in Norfolk at a food processing plant where hygiene standards were severely criticised – but no prosecutions resulted.
The food industry, and some of the bigger supermarkets in particular, have offered some of the fiercest resistance to improved labelling although the Bradford-based Morrison’s chain says it only sells British produced meat and poultry.
Speaking yesterday at Melton Mowbray, whose famous pork pies are name protected under EU law like champagne and Stilton cheese, Jim Paice declared:
“It is a priority for the Government to ensure that food labeling is as clear as it could be. I’m therefore calling on the industry to work with us to ensure that people can be confident about the origin of the products they buy.
“I’ve written to food industry leaders to emphasise that we want clarity and transparency for the consumers, who want to make a choice based on the origin of their food – particularly if they believe they’re buying British.”
Farmers backing the “buy local” campaign will be heartened by the news, as will environmentalists concerned about the amount of carbon emissions caused by transporting food for hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles.
But such observers will not be holding their breaths: Mr. Paice is proposing yet another voluntary agreement with the food processors and supermarkets, something the last Government did for several years with only moderate success.