Residents have contacted me about their concerns about the way in which food labelling of meat and dairy products can mislead consumers.
I want to assure constituents that the Government is committed to upholding and improving animal welfare and Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, made this clear by announcing that, following Brexit, the Government would not only maintain but enhance animal welfare standards and he introduced a new law which will increase sentences for those who commit the most heinous acts of animal cruelty to five years in jail.
Labels should not suggest animals have been farmed outdoors when they have, in fact, been kept indoors throughout their lives. I also fully appreciate the gravity of the issue, given the £200 billion UK consumers spend each year on food, drink and catering services. Consumer confidence is very important in this industry.
The current regulations on food labelling require that any information, including on packaging, advertising or other media, must not mislead consumers as to the characteristics of the food, including its method of manufacture or production. The regulations specify that prepacked food labels must provide consumers with the name of the food, its ingredients, any ingredients potentially causing allergy or intolerance, the quantity of specific ingredients where this is important to consumers, the net quantity of the product, the use-by or best before date, any special storage conditions, the name and address of the producer, the country of origin for a number of types of food, including fresh and frozen meat, instructions for use where required, alcoholic strength and a nutrition declaration.
Leaving the European Union creates opportunities to introduce even clearer labelling and there may be a case for looking at expanding the range of production method descriptions covered by such regulations in the future if this additional information will aid consumer understanding. For there to be continuity at first, the EU Withdrawal Bill will put all our existing regulations on food labelling and all other aspects on a legal footing in UK law. However, there will then be opportunities to revisit them over time and the Environment Secretary is committed to developing a new ‘gold standard’ food labelling system after we leave.
In the meantime, there are some very good voluntary schemes which relate to methods of production, such as the RSPCA Assured scheme recognising high standards of animal welfare, British Lion eggs and the Red Tractor scheme. Ministers colleagues are keen to encourage those further.