Dairy food labelling: shoppers have right to know, says DEFRA

By Michael Stones contact

- Last updated on GMT

Hard cheese: refusing to introduce mandatory COOL labelling confuses shoppers
Hard cheese: refusing to introduce mandatory COOL labelling confuses shoppers

Related tags: Origin labelling, Milk, Meat

Consumers deserve the right to know the cheese and milk they buy is British, farm minister George Eustice will tell fellow agriculture ministers in Brussels today (June 16).

Arguing for mandatory country of origin labelling (COOL) to be adopted across Europe, Eustice will argue that only such measures will give shoppers clarity that any milk or cheese labelled as from the UK was produced here.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Eustice said: “We know people place a premium on buying British and I believe they have the right to know where the milk, cheese and butter they buy has come from.

“We successfully campaigned for country of origin labels on beef, lamb, pork and poultry, which has allowed consumers to show their support for the British meat industry. Extending it to dairy products is a sensible next step and will be a significant boost for our hard working dairy farmers.”

‘Allowed consumers to show their support’

The current rules mean shoppers may believe they are buying British simply because a product has been imported and then processed or packaged in the UK.

A clear, mandatory labelling scheme that applies across the EU will help support the UK dairy industry and meet the growing demand for British produce both at home and overseas, according to Eustice’s ministry the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

While a recent European Commission report suggested mandatory labelling would result in significant costs, Eustice will argue that the cost would be low if the focus was on products such as: milk, cheese, cream and butter.

The COOL message

“We successfully campaigned for country of origin labels on beef, lamb, pork and poultry, which has allowed consumers to show their support for the British meat industry. Extending it to dairy products is a sensible next step and will be a significant boost for our hard working dairy farmers.”

  • George Eustice

The report claimed that, for milk and milk used as an ingredient, it would put an “additional burden”​ on regulators.

Mandatory country of origin labelling has been long supported by a range of groups including: DEFRA, Dairy UK, the National Farmers Union and consumer pressure group Which? 

‘Disappointed to see’

Dairy UK boss Dr Judith Bryans slammed the EC’s rejection of mandatory COOL last month. “We are disappointed to see​ that the Commission report found that voluntary COOL may be a more suitable option for dairy products than a mandatory system.”

There was an obvious consumer demand for clearer information on the country of origin of food products, as illustrated by the existing rules for fresh meat within the Food Information Regulation, added Bryans. “It makes sense to take the next step and introduce these requirements for milk and milk used as an ingredient in dairy products.”

Which? included COOL on its government wishlist​ before the last election.

But plans to introduce mandatory country of origin labelling for meat used in processed food​, which has won the backing of the European Parliament, could significantly add to costs experts warned at  a conference organised by NSF International in London last February.

“For food business operators that is a huge challenge if the Commission and​ [European] Parliament and ministers of state go down that​ [compulsory COOL] road,”​ said George Lyon, a former Scottish Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament and former Member of the European Parliament, who is now a senior consultant and agrifood specialist at lobbying firm Hume Brophy.

Meanwhile, compulsory country of origin labelling for unprocessed, fresh and frozen pre-packaged pork, poultry, sheep and goat meat came into force across Europe on April 1 2015.

Country of origin labelling for beef has been compulsory for more than 10 years. 

Related topics: Regulation & Safety

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