Pack of Co-operative Elmwood British chicken thighs© E. M. Welch/REX/Shutterstock

Farm leaders have urged the government to introduce mandatory country-of-origin labelling for meat and milk in processed food products.

The call was made in a letter sent to Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom by the NFU, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland and the National Pig Association.

Country-of-origin labelling would give shoppers more choice and confidence when buying British food and increase transparency in the supply chain, said the organisations.

See also: Brexit – farmers share their export worries

The organisations have also expressed their concerns over the potential loss of food name protection as the UK negotiates a new deal with the EU post-Brexit.

Red Tractor Week

The letter was sent to coincide with Red Tractor Week (12-18 September), during which UK farmers are urging shoppers to seek out food bearing the Red Tractor logo.

“More needs to be done to make labelling clearer and all our organisations are lobbying hard on this issue,” said the organisations in a joint statement.

France is already undertaking a two-year trial of country-of-origin labelling for meat and milk in processed products, argue the organisations.

Meanwhile, other European governments have outlined their plans to implement country-of-origin labelling for processed foods.

“We believe the UK government should move now to introduce origin labelling for meat and milk in processed products, which would provide greater transparency.

“With the Brexit negotiations on the horizon, this could be the start of strong national legislation to ensure we have clear country-of-origin labelling in the future.”

The statement says country of origin is important to some retailers and food manufacturers, but shoppers can become confused when labelling is unclear.

NFU survey

A survey carried out by the NFU in May 2016 found 60% of the public often or always look specifically for British produce when shopping for food.

“As an industry, we should be able to showcase these products to shoppers through mandatory country-of-origin labelling,” says the statement.

Labelling needs to provide accurate, clear and relevant information so consumers can make an informed choice, it adds.

The organisations also want the government to continue protecting designated food names once the UK leaves the EU so consumers can be sure that sought-after products are authentic.

They say this would protect some of the UK’s most famous foods such as Scotch beef and lamb, Stilton cheese, West Country beef and lamb and Welsh beef and lamb.

“European Protected Geographical Indication, Protected Designation of Origin and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed have been vital in protecting food provenance in the marketplace.”