Clearly British campaign: Minister challenges retailers to take clear lead on dairy labels

Farming Minister George Eustice.
Farming Minister George Eustice.
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FARMING MINISTER George Eustice has revealed he has written to all the major supermarkets is search of answers on their commitment to clearly labelling dairy products.

In an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post in which he described our Clearly British campaign as “an excellent initiative”, Mr Eustice said he was not prepared to let the issue lie after encountering resistance to compulsory labelling rules at EU level.

Dairy produce in numbers

Dairy produce in numbers

The Minister backed our call for retailers and food processors to show leadership and do more to make it clear when a dairy product - be it cheese, butter, yoghurt or other - is made with milk only produced by cattle on British farms.

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Expressing his frustration at the impasse with the European Commission for mandatory labelling, Mr Eustice said: “I have been very clear with the European Commission that we would like to see mandatory country of origin labelling introduced on most dairy products - at least on simpler ones like cheese and butter where it is easy to do.

“I made that case very strongly in June at one of the European councils. The European Commission at the moment are showing resistance to this, they are saying it would be too costly and too difficult to do. We don’t accept that, we think we have done it successfully on beef and on pork and on poultry so if we can do mandatory country of origin labelling on meats I don’t see why we shouldn’t also be able to do it on dairy products.”

Without mandatory rules, a dairy product made with milk from abroad can still bear a UK logo if the milk has been processed or packaged in Britain. This confusion is making it difficult for shoppers to identify which products they buy benefit hard-pressed British dairy farmers.

Latest figures show that months of low farm gate milk prices caused by a drop in global demand for dairy, is on average seeing up to three Yorkshire dairy farmers quit every month.

Mr Eustice urged retailers to act, saying: “In the absence of the Commission showing a willingness to move in our direction on this, we are working with the industry and with retailers to try and strengthen the voluntary country of origin code that we have got on dairy.

“So, we have written to all supermarkets and asked them to clarify whether they are following the code; whether cheese has the Union Jack on it is actually using milk sourced from the UK.

“The supermarkets that I have spoken to so far, they are clear that to have the Union Jack and be promoted as British they should also use British milk so we will be keeping the pressure up to ensure we can strengthen that voluntary code.”

The voluntary labelling code was drawn up by retailers, food processors and hospitality groups in 2010, and talks will be held between the National Farmers’ Union, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and others to discuss how the code can be extended later this month.

For more reporting on our Clearly British campaign, click here.

And sign our petition calling for clear dairy labelling here.