Food Law News - UK - 2003

FSA Press Release (2003/0424), 21 October 2003

LABELLING - Agency survey shows that labelling of potatoes in the UK needs to improve: A third of potatoes sampled were incorrectly labelled

Retailers are increasingly marketing the differences between varieties of potatoes, encouraging customers to choose different types because of their particular characteristics such as taste and texture. And with the difference in variety often comes a difference in price, as much as 40% in some cases.

However, the results from a survey being carried out by the Food Standards Agency shows that consumers aren't always getting the type or quality of potato they think they are paying for.
In order for people to make clear choices between different types of potatoes, the information available to them when they are shopping needs to be accurate. Potatoes on retail sale are required by law to be labelled with the name of the variety. However, when the Agency checked the labelling of potatoes on sale in February and April this year, more than a third gave the wrong information.

Out of 294 potato samples taken, results showed that:

In order to check whether the potatoes were actually the type they were labelled as, the Agency funded research to develop a new DNA testing method. This has led to the creation of a database of profiles of different potato varieties - it currently includes profiles for 98 different potato types.

Rosemary Hignett, Head of Food Labelling and Standards at the FSA, said:

'It is clear that consumers are not always getting what they are paying for, and this is unacceptable. Whilst mislabelling of potatoes in some shops and on some market stalls may be down to incorrect variety labelling at wholesalers or lack of knowledge of the labelling requirements, the bottom line is that consumers are losing out.

'There is clearly a particular problem at wholesale markets, and we are working with local authorities on follow-up action to make sure that this is resolved.'

Of the potatoes sampled, those most likely to be mislabelled were King Edwards. Of the 37 samples taken that were labelled as King Edward, 16 (43%) were not actually King Edwards at all. Most of these were actually a little-known variety called Ambo.

Nearly all of the incorrectly labelled samples came from smaller, independent retailers, fruit & veg shops and stalls and wholesalers. A similar number of mislabelled/unlabelled samples were collected from most of these outlets. However, of 19 samples collected from wholesale markets, most of the samples (16) were mislabelled and not actually the variety they were claiming to be.

Results of the full survey, including samples taken in June that are currently being analysed, will be published shortly. However the results from the first two parts of the survey have now been passed on to the relevant local authorities who will be following-up the results with the sample owners. Details of the survey so far, including responses received from some of sample owners, can be found via the links below.

Additional Notes

1. Potatoes account for around 17% of total retail fruit and vegetable sales in the UK. (Mintel report May 2003. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables)

2. Recent industry figures indicate that King Edwards potatoes sell for between £30-£40 per tonne more than the Ambo variety.

3. The potatoes sampled were on sale in a range of retail outlets in February and April this year. Outlets included fruit & veg shops, supermarkets, independent retailers, market stalls and wholesale markets.

4. The results released so far relate to samples from February and April only. Results from June will be issued once analysis is complete.


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