Defra has just launched a consultation looking to help shoppers make more informed decisions at the tills due to food labelling rule changes. The UK implementation of the EU Food Information Regulations will mean manufacturers will have to bring in clearer and more honest food labelling on the country of origin of meat, allergen advice and labelling of ingredients in meat products.

A lot has happened since the debate began around the new EU regulations. The economic situation and food price hikes mean consumers are focused on price more than ever. Which?’s own research shows that rising food prices are one of consumers’ top financial worries.

With food production methods ever more complex, people are reliant on the label to tell them what their food contains, how and where it was produced and assess value for money.

” People are reliant on the label to tell them what their food contains”

So it’s good news that nutrition information will finally become mandatory. The regulations will also hopefully pave the way for a national agreement on front-of pack traffic-light labelling across the board. Origin labelling will be extended to all meat and there should be an end to confusing labelling where the origin of the main ingredients differs to the place of production. This origin information may go even further in the future.

The regulations should also improve ingredients labelling. They recognise the importance of choice over new production methods by requiring ingredients produced using nanotechnology to be indicated. Greater clarity will also be provided for meat products. For example, added water will have to be listed in the name of the food, when it makes up more than 5% of the product, so people can see what they are paying for. Vegetable fats, such as palm oil, will also have to be listed, rather than being described generically.

But while the regulations will bring in these improvements, Defra’s consultation suggests that their implementation could be undermined by an over-zealous deregulatory agenda.

There’s a danger that removal of important information on foods that are sold loose, like the name of the food or quantities of the main ingredients for meat products, could go. Defra is also proposing that standards specifying the composition of certain foods such as ice cream and cheese are no longer needed.

With so many people concerned about value for money and quality, it is time for greater transparency about what we are paying for, not less. Which? wants to see Defra ensuring that the consumer interests are at the heart of its consultation so people have more power to choose what they eat and know what’s in their food.

Sue Davies is chief policy officer at Which?