Assurance schemes emerged as a significant issue of concern in the Agency's consumer research. Consequently, the Agency will be undertaking a wide-ranging review of food assurance schemes.
The review, which will be UK-wide, comes after research by the Agency revealed low recognition and understanding by consumers of the schemes and confusion over the uses of logos and their meaning.
The Agency recognises that assurance schemes play a valuable role in raising standards but has concerns that they may be requiring additional resources, and possibly misleading consumers, without always bringing clear consumer benefits.
Assurance schemes can help to build consumer confidence if they are based on the following principles:
The Agency will be investigating whether the schemes are impacting adversely on price or consumer choice or information.
Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency said: "Industry assurance schemes have a role in promoting consumer choice in the market, but it is essential that this choice is both clear and meaningful. We want more truth, less hype".
He continued: "The Policy Commission for Farming and Food is a valuable opportunity to examine issues of concern to consumers and for the entire food industry to work together to act on those concerns."
The Agency's submission also shows that the average UK family spends about 16% of its income on food, but low-income families spend as much as 30%. The Agency says changes in the nature of food production should not result in universally raising prices, as this could further restrict the access of low-income consumers to a range of affordable, nutritious food.
Food prices are determined in Europe by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but for the commodities supported, the CAP actually keeps food prices over 20% higher than world market prices. The Agency will be calling on the Food and Farming Commission to recommend urgent reform of the CAP regime.
The release includes the following additional notes: