Today’s story in the Guardian about fish labelling raises some important issues.
I am working closely on the Food Information to Consumers legislation which is currently being negotiated between the European Parliament and EU governments. We start the next round of negotiations next week in Strasbourg, and one of the things I will be fighting extremely hard for is country of origin labelling for all meat, and all meat and fish when used in processed foods. EU rules already mean that consumers have a right to know where the beef and fish they buy comes from, but I want to see that extended to all other meats, including pork, lamb and chicken, as well as country of origin labelling for meat and fish when used in processed foods. Under the current system a company can choose to promote a product such as a chicken sandwich processed in the UK as British, when in fact the chicken comes from Thailand. This is misleading and unacceptable.
Unfortunately the Conservative-led coalition and Tory MEPs did not support my amendments to improve origin labelling for meat in processed foods now and want to delay the measures for another five years. Negotiations will be difficult but I have the support of most of the European Parliament and it’s something that I’m not prepared to compromise on. Consumers want to know where meat comes from for a whole range of reasons, including sustainability, animal welfare conditions, and the environmental impact of transporting meat halfway across the world.
Of course, even if we get the European rules right we still have work to do to help environmentally minded consumers make good choices. In terms of fish I think the idea of supermarkets developing a traffic light system for sustainability is an excellent one. The traffic light scheme for nutritional values has proved to be easy to understand and popular, and has been something I have been advocating at European level. For other types of meat consumers need to know how animal welfare standards differ across the world. How many consumers know, for example, that all countries in the EU comply with the same European animal welfare regulations, which are some of the best in the world?
Consumers want to know more about the food they buy, and we have to make sure that policy makers, retailers and producers work together to give useful and transparent information.