UK farming organisations have called on the government to consider introducing mandatory origin labelling for meat and milk in processed products.

National Farmers Union (NFU) leaders in England, Wales, Scotland and the National Pig Association (NPA) have told the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Andrea Leadsom, that the move “would give shoppers more choice and confidence when buying British food and increase transparency in the supply chain”.

In a joint letter to Leadsom, the organisations said France is already implementing a two-year trial of country of origin labelling for meat and milk in processed products, “while other European governments have outlined plans to introduce country of origin labelling for processed foods”.

The four organisations said jointly: “With the Brexit negotiations on the horizon, this could be the start of strong national legislation to ensure we have clear country of origin labelling in the future. It is clear that some retailers and manufacturers feel origin is important by going above what is required in law and through voluntary principles. However, the inconsistency of voluntary commitment can sometimes be the source of confusion among shoppers.”

They cited an NFU survey in May 2016, which suggested that “60% of the public often or always look specifically for British produce when shopping for food”.

The organisations also expressed their concerns over the loss of food name protection as the UK negotiates a new deal with the EU post-Brexit. They said they “wanted to see the continued use of food name protections in the UK that guarantees authenticity and origin and prevents imitation products from using the name.”

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By GlobalData

In a separate letter, NFU Scotland has written to Scottish rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing calling on the Scottish Government to work with the national government at Westminster to introduce mandatory country of origin labelling on processed meat and dairy products.

NPA chief executive officer Zoe Davies said: “Country of origin labelling has always been a hugely important – and often very frustrating – issue for the UK pig sector because of the level of import competition we face. We want clear unambiguous labelling that leaves consumers in no doubt where their meat comes from.”

Davies said: “For years, the excuse has been Brussels and the restrictions placed by the European Union on labelling by country of origin.” Following the UK’s June referendum decision to leave the EU, Davies said “there can be no more excuses”.

In July, former UK food minister Liz Truss backed calls for the development of a British version of the protected food names scheme as the country prepared to leave the EU. Truss told the House of Commons: “This is an extremely important issue, and it is one of the issues on which we are working at the moment. I hope that we will develop a British protected food names status in the future.”

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that the European Commission was considering a request by Portugal for the introduction of the mandatory labelling of the origin of imported dairy products sold in the country.