22 February 2000
Farmers seek out food mislabelling

FARMERS will be scanning the shelves of supermarkets as they begin an investigation of labelling on Tuesday (22 February)

Some 3000 producers will check whether produce labelled British is indeed from Britain, as part of an initiative by the National Farmers Union.

The NFU is assessing if country-of-origin labelling guidelines, recommended by farming minister Nick Brown are being adhered to.

NFU head of marketing Helen Lo told the Radio 4 Farming Today programme union research showed that consumers instinctively wanted to buy British.

She said they understood that since BSE, British producers have had to put in a large number of controls and practices to raise standards of production.

Ms Lo said value for money, as well as price, was very important to consumers.

“If value for money means they are getting a product produced to the highest standards in the world, then thats accepted.”

She added that while these guidelines are not backed by legislation, supermarkets have a moral duty to clearly label produce.

Ms Lo insisted the initiative was not not seeking to restrict trade, but simply to have labelling stating the correct country of origin and country of production.

Meanwhile, Tesco will start to label food as British in what it says is a move to help British farmers.

But the chain is resisting calls simply to lower the price of British goods.

A spokesman told Farming Today the price in the marketplace was set by supply and demand, and margins were low on products like beef and lamb.

He said flagging up British goods would help show customers where they could get British food and reassure farmers Tesco was promoting British goods.

He also announced the chain was spending £3 million to lower the price of British sausages.

The question of who picks up the cost of the change of labelling was “part of the negotiation” on product costs, said the spokesman,

But he said the store was sensitive to difficulties facing farmers and processors, and hoped this could be done without extra pressure on the supply chain.

He said the store led the way in labelling, rationalising inspection, and supporting the NFU assurance mark.

NFU president Ben Gill welcomed the Tesco initiatives, which will also see the store offer workshops to young farmers.

Government research last week revealed that barely 10% of consumers were concerned which country their purchases came from.