Plans to ensure British farmers’ products get the “recognition they deserve” through improved food labelling have been launched today (Tuesday, March 12).

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay launched a consultation on the plans, which aim to ensure greater transparency around the origin of food and methods of production for consumers.

The consultation will run for eight weeks and close at 11:45p.m on May 7, 2024.

The consultation looks at how to improve country of origin labelling for certain goods, including how and where this information is displayed and what products should be included. 

For example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is asking how it would make it more obvious to consumers that a pig was reared abroad in the case of imported pork being cured into bacon in the UK with a Union Jack on the packaging.

Barclay also set out proposals to require ‘method of production’ labelling on pork, chicken and eggs.

These include a mandatory five-tier label for both domestic and imported products which would differentiate between those that fall below, meet and exceed baseline UK animal welfare regulations.

“This government backs British farmers, who work hard to produce food to world-leading standards and maintain our nation’s food security,” Barclay said.

“British consumers want to buy their produce, but too often products made to lower standards abroad aren’t clearly labelled to tell them apart.

“That is why I want to make labelling showing where and how food is produced fairer and easier to understand – empowering consumers to make informed choices and rewarding our British farmers for producing high-quality, high-welfare food.”   

Food labelling

Chair of the Consortium of Labelling for the Environment, Animal Welfare and Regenerative Farming (CLEAR), Fidelity Weston, said:

“We are looking forward to the opportunity to comment on Defra’s proposed food labelling consultation and we are glad to see that progress to help the consumer understand more about how and where their food has been produced is beginning to be considered.

“We in the UK have some of the highest farming standards, producing quality food products. That needs to be recognised in the marketplace.

“To achieve this, we need a clear definition of the many terms used to describe the method of production, and transparency and honest data about how the food was produced on the farm, and right through to the end product.”

Through this, Weston said there is an opportunity to support the transition put in place by the government to move the UK to more agroecological farming methods with improved outcomes for nature, the environment and people, alongside food production.

Creating fairer labels that back British farmers is vital for the UK economy, Defra said.

“British farmers already produce about 60% of the food we eat, with the UK agri-food and seafood sectors creating more than £120 billion of value for the economy every year, and employing more than 4 million people,” the department said.

“The consultation also seeks views on whether it should be mandatory requirement to state the origin of meat, seafood and dairy products outside of the home, for example on menus in cafes and restaurants, to give consumers access to the same information while dining out as when cooking at home.” 

Executive director of Waitrose, James Bailey, said; “We have a proud history supporting British farmers and are the leading retailer for animal welfare.

“Everyone deserves to know where their food comes from – how it was grown, reared or made. 

“Better information boosts demand for higher standards, as we’ve seen with mandatory egg labelling. Extending this to more products benefits shoppers, farmers, and animals. 

“We support the government’s efforts to improve transparency and ensure shoppers aren’t misled, while giving farmers recognition for their commitment to animal welfare.”