Cheap food imports that “undercut” British farmers will soon be labelled to reflect their lower quality, Environment Secretary Steve Barclay has said, warning that shoppers are being duped into buying “unethical” produce by misleading packaging and promotions.
Revealing the plans at the Oxford Farming Conference today (4), Barclay said “British farmers take pride in producing food that meets, and often exceeds, our world-leading animal welfare and environmental standards.
“British consumers want to buy this top-quality food, but too often products produced to lower standards overseas aren’t clearly labelled to differentiate them.
“This is why I am proud to announce that we will consult on clearer food labelling so we can tackle the unfairness created by misleading labelling and protect farmers and consumers.”
Earlier, Barclay wrote in the The Telegraph that there was a “lack of transparency” around goods from countries with worse animal welfare and environmental standards. He also warned against shops putting Union flags on shelves and freezer cabinets, implying all the food inside is British, but mixing in foreign produce.
“We know we need to go further to protect British farmers and empower consumers,” Barclay said. “Origin information is required for many of the foods on our shelves but that won’t tell us how an animal has been treated or what the environmental standards were in the country it was raised.
“This means there are imported products in our shops that do not meet UK welfare standards and do not have labels to reflect this. This lack of transparency can undercut British farmers and lead to consumers unknowingly purchasing products they deem unethical. This is not fair for consumers and it’s not fair on farmers.”
“We will also explore how we can better highlight imports that do not meet UK welfare standards, improve how origin information is given online to help people find high quality British products, and look at how we can do even more to ensure promotional activity such as Union Jack labels on supermarket shelves matches the products on the shelf.”
Ministers will now consult with businesses including supermarket chains on how to introduce the changes without saddling them with additional costs. The proposed changes in the food labelling will follow similar changes that happened 20 years ago to differentiate between free-range and battery eggs, which led to a huge rise in sales of the former.