A coalition of UK dairy groups has called on the EU to tighten regulations governing country-of-origin labelling in the category.

Dairy Crest, industry organisation Dairy UK, the National Farmers Union and the British Cheese Board sent an open letter to European regulators published in The Daily Telegraph earlier this week.
“Unlike other food products… country of origin labelling is not mandatory on dairy products and we think that it should be,” a spokesperson for Dairy Crest told just-food. “Many consumers want to buy British dairy products and support British dairy farmers. The current labelling arrangements don’t ensure that they have the information to be able to do that.”

According to the coalition, there is a “window of opportunity” to press for country of origin labelling requirements to be introduced. The Food Information to Consumers Regulation requires the Commission to submit a report to the European Parliament and the Council by the end of next year. It will be prepared over the next 12 months and will be informed by an “impact assessment” scheduled to start in October.

“If we are to influence this report, we need to start our lobbying activity now,” the spokesperson explained.

In particular, the coalition is concerned about imported dairy products that are re-packaged in the UK. These products can then carry the British flag.

According to a spokesperson for the dairy coalition, the loophole is mostly used to promote  as British originate in Ireland. “Milk and dairy products that come from Ireland but are packaged in the UK can include the Union Jack on their packaging.”

Figures from Dairy UK show Ireland accounts for 80,000 tonnes of the 100,000 tonnes of cheddar imported into the country. The spokesperson said the coalition of UK dairy bodies is concerned the end of the EU milk quota system in 2015 will see Irish producers increasing imports to the UK.

“There are a lot of people that want to support British farmers. This [labelling system] is misleading consumers. We want a clear and honest system,” the spokesperson concluded.