LAST month, we saw some of the country's major retailers including the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury's, the Co-op and Asda commit to a voluntary code of clearer labelling showing where our food has come from. It's a step in the right direction but it is essential that the fight continues. That's why I have decided to add my own company's name to the list of organisations supporting the Yorkshire Post's Clearly British campaign.
I am passionate about British food, as are many of my colleagues at St Helen's Farm. We've followed the Clearly British campaign with interest – and now is the time for us to join calls for fair labelling.
There are several reasons why clarity of origin is vital for consumers and, in turn, for our food and agriculture businesses.
For consumers, it is vital to build trust in both retailers and the food industry. It allows them to make informed decisions – such as supporting British producers. For food and agricultural businesses, clear labelling would provide a point of difference between genuine British and imported products: it gives us a level playing field. And to ensure consistency it is essential that both retailers and brand owners are adhering to the same rules, be that as a voluntary code or in the form of legislation.
As the UK's largest producer of goats' milk products, we are proud that our milk is 100 per cent British. We do everything from growing crops to feed our goats right the way through to packaging our products right here in Yorkshire. And we have a network of local family-owned farms that supply us from within the region too. Our cheese is made by a sister company down in the South West and we also have other suppliers around the country.
It means that the much of the money you spend here stays here – supporting our farmers and suppliers.
But this isn't the case for every so-called 'British' product. To be labelled as British food has to be 'made' here. But what does that mean? You might think it means that ingredients come from this country, but that's not necessarily the case. For example, milk that has been made into cheese or yogurt in the UK can be labelled as British, no matter where the milk of the curd was produced. Not to mention any other ingredients. Confused? You're not the only one.
The fact is that at the moment there is no easy way of telling where your food has come from. Government research and shopping trends show that people increasingly want to buy British food – and are prepared to pay a premium for it. Consumers deserve the right to make an informed decision about what goes into their basket and where it comes from. And the British food industry deserves a way of clearly showing that. We all need a simple and clear way for everyone to see if a product is 100 per cent British.
Buying genuine British products really helps the farming and food industries – especially in difficult economic times. Quite simply, it's putting money back into our economy.
We're also helping ourselves by choosing British products. Buying British can mean buying fresh. For example, our milk can be on a supermarket shelf within 24 hours of the goats being milked. That's simply not possible for imported products. Buying British also protects us from fluctuating international markets, which are booming as global demand for food threatens to outstrip our ability to produce it. The more we produce here in the UK, the more control we have over our own food supply. And as transport costs continue to rise, buying British can only continue to make more and more sense.
Recently ministers in the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to tighten the rules on country of origin labelling for meat. Combined with a commitment from the retailers, we are heading in the right direction. We need to ensure that dairy products are also clearly and honestly labelled. It's essential that campaigns like the Yorkshire Post's Clearly British campaign continue so that we can proudly – and clearly – fly the flag for British products.
Angus Wielkopolski is managing director of Seaton Ross-based St Helen's Farm, the Uk's largest goat company.