Call for action on food origin labels

The Food Standards Agency must look at retail display, as well as pack labelling, if it is to reduce country of origin confusion. This is the verdict of the National Beef Association.

The NBA has told the FSA that new revisions to improve consumer guidance through clear food labelling should include strong advice on the display of similarly packaged products from different countries of origin.

The NBA said it was pleased that the FSA has included improvement to country of origin labelling among the proposals in its new consultation on developments needed to ensure clear food labelling for consumers - which was opened earlier this month.

But it is worried that the Agency appears not to think that questionable display techniques, as well as poor labelling, must also be covered if it is to be sure consumers are not being misled about the true origin of their food when they are making a purchase.

"It is obvious that the FSA wishes to make it more difficult for retailers, or manufacturers, to mislead consumers about country of origin because it has recommended that particulars about the place of origin must be included on the label if failure to do so might mislead the purchaser to a material degree," explained NBA director, Kim Haywood.

"However the NBA is very well aware that fresh beef from different countries is labelled by supermarkets in a similar way, that this beef is not clearly separated by country of origin on supermarket shelves, and as a result many consumers pick up packs of beef from the wrong country by mistake."

"This being the case the Association will argue very strongly that many disappointed consumers are routinely misled by poor country of origin display, otherwise known as co-mingling, and that the FSA will fall short of its own high standards if it continues to concentrate exclusively on labelling as a means of reducing confusion created by poor country of origin identification.

According to the NBA supermarkets routinely offer beef packages, especially steak and value meal offers, that have to be examined extremely carefully before country of origin is identified on the label.

And many consumers, who have a clear preference for home produced, British, are also deceived into picking up imported beef, because British beef is not physically separated from packs of Irish or South American beef which look almost exactly the same.

"Legislation under Article 16 of EU regulation 178/2002 clearly indicates that there must be no country of origin confusion in retail labelling or display," said Haywood.

"Unfortunately supermarkets, for their own reasons, continue to ignore Trading Standards advice that beef from different countries of origin should be physically separated by at least a plastic strip and identification of country of origin should be reinforced by prominent shelf edge signage.

"The NBA would like the FSA to reinforce EU legislation by advising that beef from different countries of origin should be in differently coloured packs with colour coded labels and that beef from different countries of origin must be physically separated too."

She added: "There is clear popular backing for the latter. Late last year over 100 MPs signed an Early Day Motion calling for the physical separation of retail beef from different countries and consumers regularly complain to us that they want to buy home produced beef but when they got home found they had picked up imported beef instead."

"If an organisation of the FSA's standing was able to take a stronger position on country of origin which reduced confusion by covering display (co-mingling) as well as product labelling it would, without doubt, help to reduce the number of purchasers that are currently being misled to a material degree."

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