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    Supermarkets accused of ‘inconsistent and misleading’ food labelling

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    Consumer rights organisaiton Which? said it has found evidence of misleading, inconsistent and meaningless food labels in supermarkets, potentially confusing shoppers about where some of their food originates from.

    A survey of 2,011 UK adults by Which? revealed that only half (51%) of shoppers said they find the current origin information presented on groceries helpful. Two-thirds (64%) said they would be more likely to buy a product labelled ‘British’ than one that was not.

    Which? said its researchers found loose fruit and veg products with no visible origin labelling on the shelf edge or the products themselves at supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Asda and Aldi.

    This was despite the survey research showing that two-thirds (68%) of consumers consider it important to know where fresh fruit and vegetables come from.

    Under the current origin labelling rules, it is a requirement for there to be a country or place of origin label on meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as honey and wine, but the rules do not generally apply to processed meat or frozen or processed fruit and vegetables. There is a requirement to provide origin labelling if it would be misleading not to.

    Other labels had fairly meaningless information; such as a pack of sausage rolls from Lidl which stated they were processed using ‘UK and non UK pork’ and a pack of gammon joints at Iceland where the pork was labelled as ‘EU and non EU origin’. Almost three-quarters (72%) of respondents in Which?’s survey said it was important to know where fresh meat comes from.

    Meanwhile, Aldi’s Crestwood bacon and cheese wraps had Union Jacks and ‘Made in Britain’ on the front of the pack. However, Which? researchers felt that the flag was misleading as the label on the back of the pack said they were in fact made with pork from the EU. The same was found with an Aldi steak and gravy pie.

    Researchers also found inconsistencies, such as Charlie Bigham’s lasagne ready meal, which lists its beef as British, but its moussaka fails to mention the origin of the lamb used. Half (51%) of respondents in the survey said it is important to them to know where processed and tinned meat comes from.

    Which? also found examples of misleading signage and shelf labels in the stores it visited. Tomatoes from Morocco, parsley from Italy and sweet mini peppers from Spain sat on a shelf under a large banner decorated with a Union Jack and the words ‘Championing Great British Quality’ at the Aldi store Which? visited.

    In one Asda, Which? found cauliflowers that had a Union Jack on the shelf label but were actually from Spain.

    Elsewhere, there was a lack of consistency between some products, with a whole own label pineapple in Tesco featuring country of origin information while a packet of pineapple chunks on the next aisle had nothing written on it at all. This is permitted within the current origin labelling rules due to the different way that chopped fruit is treated, but is not particularly helpful for consumers, Whichc? added. 

    Origin information is important to shoppers. The survey revealed that nearly six in ten (59%) of shoppers who check for origin labelling do it because they want to support their local economy.  Meanwhile, 58 per cent of shoppers use it to help assess product quality and about half (52%) use it to try to understand the product’s environmental impact.

    Which? said its investigation shows that origin labelling needs to be improved if it is to properly help shoppers make informed decisions that align with their values.

    The organisation added that they will be sharing its findings with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for its consultation on fairer food labelling, which was launched on 15 March.

    Which? said manufacturers should also make sure loose fruit and veg is better labelled and consider the voluntary labelling of more processed meat products.

    “Which? research has uncovered a surprising amount of inconsistent and misleading food labelling, suggesting that – even when the rules are properly adhered to – consumers aren’t getting all the information they want about their food’s origin,” Ele Clark, Which? retail editor, said.

    “Shoppers want to know where their food comes from for multiple reasons, including supporting British suppliers and making more sustainable choices. 

    “Supermarkets should particularly focus on labelling loose fruit and vegetables more clearly, but manufacturers and retailers should also consider providing origin information on more processed meat products so shoppers are armed with the information they need to make informed choices.”

    Supermarkets said they are committed to provide country of origin information to shoppers.   

    A spokesperson from Aldi said: “We understand that our shoppers want to know where the food they buy comes from, and we work hard to ensure that all our labelling complies with the rules. At Aldi, we support more than 5,000 British suppliers. When it comes to fresh fruit and veg, we are proud to support British farmers and aim to stock British produce whenever it’s available. Customers understand that at this time of year that isn’t always possible, but we remain firmly committed to supporting the British farming community.”

    A spokesperson from Asda said: “We have stringent processes in place to ensure country of origin is clearly displayed at the shelf edge and on products themselves where applicable, at all our stores. We have reminded our colleagues at this particular store of these processes so that customers are able to clearly see the country of origin.”

    A spokesperson for Iceland said: “At Iceland our products are great quality and value for customers and we follow UK Government, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) guidance on food labelling including country of origin.”

    A spokesperson from Sainsbury’s said: “We have processes in place to make sure country of origin information is clearly displayed on the product or shelf and we carry out regular checks working closely with our regulator, the Animal and Plant Health Agency.”

    A spokesperson for Tesco said: “We are committed to providing honest and helpful information so that customers can make an informed decision on what they wish to buy.  We comply with all UK food labelling requirements, including country of origin labelling.”

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