Holtunkompass - Badges - FINAL 02.05.19_web

Source: Lidl 

Lidl launched method of production labelling for fresh chicken in 2019 (pictured), however, there is currently no industry-wide standard on either country of origin or method of production labelling in existence

The government has announced plans to make it easier for shoppers to seek out British food and drink, after launching a consultation on proposals for more transparent country of origin and method of production labelling.

The plans were announced by environment secretary Steve Barclay at the Oxford Farming Conference today. They include proposals to highlight when imported products do not meet UK welfare standards, while also helping to ensure “food produced to the highest standards was consistently labelled”, Defra said.

Lidl launched its own method of production labelling for fresh chicken in 2019, however, there is currently no industry-wide standard on either country of origin or method of production labelling in existence.

Barclay told delegates at the conference that the proposals would be laid out in a “rapid” consultation, with the recently appointed secretary of state – who replaced Thérèse Coffey in November – promising to “get stuff done”.

The former health secretary also pledged to speak with retailers about how to better promote British produce in-store, in addition to working with them to identify “ways to better support online customers to understand the origin of their food products at the point of purchase, including the option of a Buy British Button”, Defra said.

It follows calls by a cross-party group of MPs last summer for such a move, which also won support from Coffey in September. Farming groups have been campaigning for several years for similar measures, in addition to more transparency over the communication of the method of production of imports often produced to standards that would be banned in the UK.

Mandating clearer labelling to improve transparency and better signpost British produce would both empower consumers to make informed decisions at the supermarket shelf and online, while also “backing British farmers producing food to world-leading standards of taste, quality and animal welfare”, Barclay suggested.

“British farmers take pride in producing food that meets, and often exceeds, our world-leading animal welfare and environmental standards,” he said.

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“Consumers want to buy this top-quality food, but too often products produced to lower standards overseas aren’t clearly labelled to differentiate them. This is why I am proud to announce we will consult on clearer food labelling so we can tackle the unfairness created by misleading labelling and protect farmers and consumers.”

The proposals form part of a wider package of government support for farmers across the supply chain, with Barclay also announcing the “biggest upgrade to the government’s farming schemes since the UK left the EU”, via its post-CAP environmental land management schemes.

These include a 10% increase in the average value of agreements in the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Countryside Stewardship scheme, driven by increased payment rates, with uplifts automatically applied to existing agreements.

Around 50 new actions that farmers can get paid for across all types of farm businesses, including actions for agroforestry and those driving forward agricultural technology such as robotic mechanical weeding, were also announced.

It comes alongside ongoing support for farmer-led innovation and technology. The government had committed over £168m in grant funding to farmers in 2023 to drive innovation, support food production, improve animal health and welfare and protect the environment, Barclay said.

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This included the announcement of a further £45m in November to fund robotic and automatic equipment and invest in research & development.

Barclay told the conference he was keen to adopt emerging technologies that were available to the market now, rather than waiting for tech to be developed for unspecified future dates.

The conference also heard of a need for greater collaboration between buyers and sellers as it launched its annual report – written by retail expert Ged Futter – which warned food producers and farmers were on the brink due to years of low profitability.

Futter’s study warned the financial risk of producing food for the major supermarkets was “now far greater than it has ever been before”. Conference director and British Apples & Pears chair Ali Capper said the UK’s self-sufficiency was now at risk due to the financial crisis hanging over the farming sector.

The report was published in the same week a separate study for the NFU by Promar International revealed production costs in the horticulture sector had risen by as much as 39% over the past two years – often with a minimal increase in returns from buyers.