UK food manufacturers and retailers have today (24 November) published guidelines on country-of-origin labelling to encourage consistent information on food labels.
The “principles on country-of-origin information”, drawn up by industry bodies including the British Retail Consortium and the Food and Drink Federation, come as European politicians discuss whether to bring in regulations across the EU.
The guidelines apply to meat, processed meat and dairy products. The term ‘British’ can only be used for meat from animals born and reared in the UK. In the case of poultry, it can be labelled ‘British’ if reared in the country.
Manufacturers need to label processed meat products like bacon and sausages with the origin of the meat ingredient in the products. In other composite products like pies and casseroles, where a voluntary origin declaration is made, the guidelines state that processors need to “label the country or origin of the meat ingredient if the meat is considered of primary interest to the consumer or a predominant component of the product”.
Origin claims using UK flags, British icons or landmarks or any suggestion of British or local origin through the product name or description – for example British Classic – is limited to products where the meat originates from the UK, the guidelines stated.
Dairy processors need to label all liquid milk, excluding evaporated or condensed milk, and fresh cream with the country of origin of the milk.
Butter and cheese, excluding processed cheese and cheese used as an ingredient should be labelled with the country of origin of the liquid milk or the place of manufacture.
If milk is sourced from more than one country, a manufacturer should name the countries, state “product of multiple countries”, define a geographical area like the EU or say that the origin of the primary ingredients is different from the origin of the product – for example, “produced in the UK from imported milk”.
The use of flags or similar imagery will be limited to those containing liquid milk from that country, the guidelines said.
Jim Paice, the UK’s minister for agriculture and food, said the food industry had already made progress in providing information on food origin. However, he said the guidelines represented a “significant step forward”.
“Many individual businesses already provide excellent origin information. These principles formalise and strengthen what they do. Championing the practices of the best performers and bringing others into line will reduce confusion and ensure improvements in both the quality and consistency of origin information for all consumers,” Paice said.
Retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer and The Co-operative Group have signed up to the guidelines.
Andrew Opie, food director at the British Retail Consortium, said the guidance “formalised” what the UK’s large retailers had already agreed.
“In fact, many grocers already go well beyond the high minimum standards set out in the document,” Opie said.