FSA News Item, 19 November 2002
The Food Standards Agency has issued formal guidance to the food industry on the labelling they should use to make it easier for people to understand where their food comes from. The Agency is also pressing for better labelling in Europe, but has issued the guidance so that the food industry can take action without delay.
The guidance makes clear that origin labelling of processed products must not mislead as to the origin of the ingredients used. It also contains examples of best practice, to encourage industry to adopt more consistent and transparent labelling practices.
The aim of the Agency's new advice is to help manufacturers, producers, retailers and caterers comply with the law and provide additional voluntary information in a way that is helpful to consumers.
Consumer research has shown that better country of origin labelling is high on the list of consumers' priorities for change.
Rosemary Hignett, Head of Food Labelling at the FSA said: 'Clearer labelling and information on country of origin are important to UK consumers. The FSA is working hard to ensure improvements are made in both these areas.
'We are pressing for change to legislation in Europe. But we believe that industry does not have to wait for Europe, and can take its own action now to ensure that the labelling on their products is clearer and unambiguous. The new guidance will help them to do that.'
The Agency's advice takes into account the views of consumers, enforcers and industry gathered during a wide-ranging public consultation on draft advice that ran from 3 December 2001 to 29 March 2002.
Research has shown, for example, that for many consumers, terms such as: 'produce of', 'product of', 'origin', 'British', 'Scottish', 'Welsh', imply that the place of processing and the origin of ingredients are the same.
The Agency recommends that these terms 'only be used where all the significant ingredients come from the identified country and all of the main production/manufacturing processes associated with the food occur within that place or country.'
The only exception, the Agency says, 'would be for products, such as chocolate, where certain ingredients (in this case cocoa beans) cannot come from the country in question'.
Radical changes are also recommended in the labelling of meat. In the past, meat labelling has been a source of confusion among consumers because livestock may be born, reared and slaughtered in different countries.
The Agency says that for meat other than beef or veal (which are already subject to detailed rules covered in an annex to its advice) 'single country origin declarations should only be given where animals have been born, reared and slaughtered in the same country. Otherwise, information on each of the countries of birth, rearing and slaughter should be given'.
If the place of origin of the food is not the same as the place of origin of the primary ingredients, it may be necessary to provide information on the origin of these ingredients, the Agency explains.
As an example the Agency suggests that 'bacon or ham made in Britain using Danish pork should not be described as "British ham" but could be described as "Danish pork cured in Britain"'.
The Food Labelling: Country of Origin advice provides information on legislation on origin labelling, avoiding misleading labelling, advice on the form of declaration that should be used and the location of the declaration. An annexe summarises country of origin rules on a number of specific foods.
A copy of the document can be found at: http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/originlabelling.pdf