The FSA has launched a consultation on the country of origin labelling of meat and other food products in a move welcomed by the National Beef Association.

"If you're in a high-cost producer country, the only way to compete with cheaper imports is to differentiate your product by where it is from and how it is made," said Kim-Marie Haywood, director at NBA, which has been lobbying for tighter rules since 2005.

"The only tool you have for that is your label, so any move to reinforce the country of origin information is good news for consumers and the British industry."

The draft guidelines put out for consultation by the FSA take a stricter line on vague or misleading origin statements. They aim to clarify best practice and make it easier for manufacturers and retailers to comply.

They also give existing legislation more teeth, giving enforcement officers clearer instructions on how to police the law on labelling. Failure to comply with the law can cost companies up to £20,000 each time.

Specific problems in the FSA's sights include statements such as "Thai-style" on food, and particularly the loophole that allows companies to claim meat is "produced" in the UK if it was packed here - regardless of the origin of the actual meat.

It proposes to encourage the industry to include a "Produced in Y" and "Packed in X" statement on labels.

Another suggestion is to offer better advice on how to present and display products in supermarkets.Haywood said she hoped it would end the so-called co-mingling problem, where meat from different origins is displayed in the same cabinet, potentially misleading consumers.

"We've written tough letters to the Food Standards Agency on this and heard back that it was bound by current legislation. Perhaps, at last, they're trying to change that."

The consultation is open until 14 December.