Shoppers must wait years for labels identifying British food

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NEW laws to make food retailers accurately label food to show where the ingredients have come from will not take effect until 2014, it has been announced.

The Government’s food watchdog, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), has said that changes to food packaging to include more accurate and understandable information will not become legal for at least another two years.

It was also announced that retailers can label foods as being English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, rather than just having a uniform British label.

The FSA says that the delay is necessary to allow industry a suitable period of grace to bring the changes into effect.

A spokeswoman said that 2014 was the target date for bringing in the new labels but that the new labelling guidelines to do with nutritional information would not be available until 2016.

The changes will effectively end a long-standing loophole in the law which has allowed retailers to legally label food as being British even if it was only processed or packaged here.

The discrepancy has long been a source of irritation for Britain’s farmers as it allows them to be undercut by cheaper foreign imports which they say are produced to much poorer welfare standards, and for consumers who are displeased at being duped into thinking they are buying British. The Yorkshire Post launched its Clearly British campaign to call for a change in the law.

The FSA confirmed that country of origin labelling will apply to “most fresh and frozen meat”.

It said: “For example, it will be possible for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to be used on food labels without mentioning UK under new provenance rules. Also, the origin of main ingredients will have to be given if different from where the final product is made.”

Other changes to labelling will see simplified and accurate nutritional information required to be displayed and for all information to be printed a minimum size so as to be easily legible.

Allergen information will have to be provided on all food, whether sold prepacked or loose and prepacked foods will have to highlight any allergens on the ingredient list.

Elsewhere drinks with high caffeine content will have to be additionally labelled with the actual caffeine content quoted.

Types of vegetable oil used in food, such as the controversial palm oil, must be also stated.

The initial announcement, made from Brussels earlier this year, will also see Britain able to retain its traditional practice of selling by numbers – such as a dozen bread rolls or eggs – and imperial measures. The EU had initially wanted to require metric measurements on all products.

Dr Andrea Graham, chief science and regulatory affairs adviser for the NFU, told the Yorkshire Post: “The NFU supports the provision of clear, accurate and relevant information for the consumer and we believe that the new country of origin labelling requirements will give a big boost to consumers offering them clear and honest information on the origin of their food and where it was reared.

“The new regulation is just one phase in a long implementation process and technical negotiations are still on-going in some areas with a number of reports expected over the next three to four years.

“The NFU will continue to push hard for the mandatory country of origin labelling to be extended to processed meat and dairy products. Meanwhile, the Red Tractor logo, containing the Union Jack flag, remains a good guide for consumers regarding the origin of British food.”

mark.casci@ypn.co.uk