Clearly British: Brexit offers scope for tough new dairy labelling rules

Farming Minister George Eustice has hinted that the Government will examine the case for mandatory labelling on dairy products to avoid shoppers being duped by false British origin claims once the country formally leaves the European Union.

Farming Minister George Eustice says the Repeal Bill will herald the start of the conversation over whether mandatory dairy labelling rules should be proposed in Britain.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post on the first anniversary of our Clearly British campaign, he said the Government would be free to legislate on food labelling after the Great Repeal Bill is invoked, thus annulling all EU laws from applying in Britain.

The Minister said that no decision is likely to be made either way on whether to propose mandatory labelling rules until after Brexit has formally concluded.

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The Yorkshire Post wants British shoppers to be presented with clear labels on all food products containing dairy as an ingredient so that the public know precisely if their choices are benefitting British dairy farmers, many of whom continue to suffer from prices worth far less per litre than the cost of production.

Mr Eustice explained that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will look at food labelling rules as part of the Government’s deliberations on Brexit.

He said: “We have always had a very clear position that we would like to see the extension of mandatory country of origin labelling where we are able to do so.”

Under current EU laws, dairy products such as cheese, butter and yoghurt can be labelled as produced in whichever country they were processed last rather than according to where the milk is actually from.

An oval-shaped label on packaging, known as the health mark, adds to the confusion as this can state UK but it only indicates where the product was processed or packaged, not from where the raw ingredients originate.

In the absence of mandatory rules, The Yorkshire Post calls on retailers and food processors to clearly label where dairy products are from, and asks hotels, restaurants and caterers to commit to saying if the dairy products they use are British.

The National Farmers’ Union believes that voluntary action does not go far enough and says it wants mandatory rules.

Mr Eustice said: “The Prime Minister’s made clear that initially we’re going to bring forward the Great Repeal Bill which on one level is very radical in that it will be the end of EU law.

“Initially it’s our intention to put the current body of EU law and regulation onto a UK legal basis and then to refine things over time but we have always had a very clear position that we would like to see the extension of mandatory country of origin labelling where we are able to do so, particularly on dairy products so that we don’t get milk from other countries being turned into dairy products and then being passed off as UK produce.

“That is certainly something we would be able to look at and would be free to legislate on nationally once we leave the EU - but it is not something we could do until we have actually left.”

Mr Eustice emphasised that clearer dairy labelling will be “one of the things we will look at” as the Government discusses how it builds a “UK brand” post-Brexit.

The Minister added: “Our approach to issues like labelling is certainly something we will look at, but as I said in the first instance, existing EU law will be converted onto a UK basis so we will have the time to think about these things properly once we leave the EU.”