Origin not a top priority, study claims

Country of origin labelling is not a "top priority" for consumers, according to new research by the Food Standards Agency.
A new study by the FSA, pulled together from five separate pieces of research, claimed that while there was an awareness of country of origin labelling it was not a main concern for consumers when shopping.

However, the research did reveal that consumers would most like to see origin labelling on meat products.

The study also said consumers were confused as whether country of origin referred to where animals are born, raised or slaughtered, or whether this refers to where a food product has been produced.

Tim Smith, chief executive of the FSA, said: "This research shows that even though country of origin isn't a top priority for consumers, confusion remains over what "produced in the UK" actually means.

“The issue is not about more origin labelling but the need for greater clarity on the labels on some of our most popular foods. European labelling rules being proposed will require businesses that make origin claims to provide further information so that people will know where their food actually comes from, not just where it was processed.

“We support this approach as it effectively strengthens and gives legal backing to key elements of the existing FSA voluntary labelling guidance. We will use the results of this research to inform our discussions in Brussels.

“In the meantime, we believe that the willingness of food businesses to take account of our guidance in their labelling practices has improved the information available to consumers and we will continue to encourage uptake and, in discussion with food businesses, identify any barriers to providing this information.”

UK pig leaders said they welcomed the proposals to change European labelling rules. Bpex said a new voluntary code of practice on the labelling of pork and pork products is now being drawn up following agreement by pig producers, processors, major food retailers, and the food service sector.

Mick Sloyan, director of Bpex, said: "English pig farmers have long fought for clearer labelling to provide unambiguous consumer choice and confidence. The voluntary code and forthcoming EU rules will reassure consumers that, when they buy Quality Standard Mark pork and pork products, they will have been produced to very high welfare and exacting quality standards. It clearly differentiates QSM pig producers from other pork producing countries.”

Retailers also welcomed the FSA's research, claiming the study backed their own views that country of origin was not the key issue with consumers when choosing products

Andrew Opie, British Retail Consortium Food Director, said: “You can’t miss British produce in stores because it’s clearly labelled by retailers, often with written statements or Union flags or red tractors. Any customer who wants to buy British will have no problem identifying it in shops.

“The FSA research clearly shows country of origin labelling isn’t the most important factor for most customers. There is higher consumer interest in country of origin for meats and meat products and that’s where the focus needs to be.

“Many retailers provide information well beyond the legal requirements and give the country of origin for the ingredients of manufactured products even though it’s not a statutory requirement. Stores provide this extra detail where they judge it will be useful to their customers.”

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