‘Misleading’ use of flag criticised in new report

This pack of British chicken breasts is Red Tractor-assured, but concerns have been raised that oth

This pack of British chicken breasts is Red Tractor-assured, but concerns have been raised that other food labels are not so clear-cut about their origins. - Credit: Steve Adams

A leading East Anglian farmer has criticised the “diabolical” use of British flags on food produced in other countries, following the publication of governmental report on misleading labelling.

Andrew Blenkiron, estate director Euston Estate

Andrew Blenkiron, estate director Euston Estate - Credit: Archant

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee found current legislation for origin labelling has the potential to mislead consumers and recommends the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) strengthens its guidelines “so customers know when they are buying British or non-British goods”.

Its report says while a UK origin claim for fresh meat may only be made where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered in the UK, the over-arching EU legislation still allows for meat products to be labelled with the country where the last significant change in production took place – not necessarily where the animal has spent its entire life.

The report also says DEFRA’s published guidance allows butter and cheese to be labelled as products of the UK even if the raw milk has come from another EU country, but been processed here.

“The cost of milk production is typically lower overseas which in turn warrants a lower farmgate price,” it says. “This removes the incentive for supermarkets to buy cheese produced using UK-sourced milk and gives consumers the false impression that they are supporting British dairy farmers.”

The report adds: “It is unacceptable that consumers cannot buy British in confidence and could be misled as to country of origin when they are buying food.”

Andrew Blenkiron, vice chair of the Red Tractor Assured Food Standards Board and estate director for Euston Estate, on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, said it was “diabolical” and “incredibly disappointing” that the consumer is being misled by believing that a union flag means it was produced here, when in reality that’s not the case. “It comes down to the individual retailer to make the consumer aware of what that union flag means. At the moment it does not guarantee anything,” he said.

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Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said: “We agree with Andrew Blenkiron that consumers need clear information on origin which is why we developed the labelling guidance six years ago. We can assure him all major retailers only use a British flag on cheese or milk if the milk used to produce it comes from British farms.”