Thursday, 7 July 2011

A step in the right direction to COOL

The European Parliament voted on regulations on country of origin labelling yesterday. How much of the WI's COOL campaign came into fruition? Our mandate, accepted just a year ago, calls for “HM government to introduce clear mandatory country of origin labelling on all meat, poultry and fish products sold in this country.” Law on food regulation is set at a European level and after years of discussion, MEPs have voted on an agreement to introduce mandatory country of origin labelling on fresh meat. Currently, beef is routinely labelled with its county of origin, but for other meat, such as pork and lamb, ‘country of origin’ often refers to the place in which a food last underwent significant change. This is misleading to say the least.

Is this outcome a win for the COOL campaign then? Well, whilst it is a step in the right direction, we are obviously disappointed that it will not go further. The WI took new research to MEPs in Strasbourg and we have been working hard to build up the evidence base that members need to take this debate forward, particularly in the light of planned future impact assessments.

Back in the UK, our own government has favoured a voluntary approach to county of origin labelling. While this is starting to have some impact, a survey of 6,000 WI members indicates that with substantial variation in the ways that different producers and supermarkets label their products there will still be plenty of room for improvement for some time. Earlier this year, 87 WIs visited 135 supermarkets to take a snapshot look at products on their shelves and the findings were stark. With 50 supermarkets carrying products with no country of origin labelling, it really makes me wonder if a voluntary approach is viable.

Consumers want to know what they are eating and where it comes from for a wide range of reasons. I see no reason to avoid telling of an animal’s place of birth if it is reared and looked after in a proper fashion in ways that conform to legal standards. It is simply not right that consumers are forced to rely on the good will of retailers.

The campaign continues…