Food label changes could be costly says expert

IMPROVING food labelling will benefit consumers but the industry fears extra costs will be felt by producers.

Experts speaking at a food labelling seminar in London this week said consumers were increasingly looking for more detailed food and country of origin labels.

The University of Surrey’s Dr Monique Raats said researchers found ‘consistent and familiar’ labels enabled consumers to feel ‘confident’ when purchasing food.

Chief executive of Leatherhead Food Research Dr Paul Berryman predicted there would be more mandatory labelling in future in response to customers wanting a better understanding of the origin of their food.

But director of the British Meat Processors Association Stephen Rossides, said there was a fine line between helping consumers make informed decisions and presenting them with ‘unnecessary’ information.

Mr Rossides, a former NFU adviser, said food industry calls for mandatory country of origin labelling was not in consumers’ or farmers’ ‘best interests’.

“I’m not sure how ‘UK’ country of origin labelling would help consumers support local producers,” he said. “It may have cost implications and this cost is unlikely to be passed onto consumers, so it will be absorbed by the industry, most likely.”

Mandatory beef labelling was adopted by the EU Parliament at the end of the 2000 BSE crisis. The primary objective was to restore consumers’ confidence in beef.

For that purpose, Mr Rossides said a unique system of both origin traceability and origin labelling of beef was introduced for all beef meat marketed in the EU.

The rules apply to fresh beef, frozen beef and minced beef.

But Mr Rossides said it should not set a precedent for all other fresh meat.

Food labelling facts

  • From next year, the Government will introduce a more consistent system of front-of-pack food labelling in the UK
  • The labels will show how much fat, salt and sugar and how many calories are in each product
  • In June 2006, a Government study revealed 47 per cent of consumers wanted country of origin labelling to show all countries in the chain of production
  • A further 28 per cent stated it should indicate the origin of raw ingredients

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