Scottish Daily Mail


Just a year after horsemeat scandal, they cave in to industry lobbying – so now you won’t know where your food comes from

- By Ben Spencer

TOUGH proposals to force food manufactur­ers to reveal where the meat in their products comes from have been shelved in a U-turn by ministers.

Despite vowing to improve transparen­cy in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, the Coalition has quietly abandoned the plans following a sustained lobbying drive by the industry.

It means manufactur­ers will not be obliged to say where the meat in pies, lasagnes, pasta sauces, sandwiches and any other processed dish originates.

Farming Minister George Eustice has quietly lobbied against tighter regulation­s for processed meat in Europe after his department held a string of meetings with food manufactur­ers.

As a result, new rules coming into force this year have been significan­tly watered down – so they will not have to tell consumers where the meat has come from in hundreds of product lines.

This flies in the face of promises by David Cameron, who called for more rigorous food informatio­n while in opposition.

Consumer and farming groups – who have consistent­ly called for clearer labelling - last night denounced the Government’s failure to protect British consumers.

Kath Dalmeny, of food campaign group Sustain, said: ‘This is outrageous, the Tory

They argued it would cost too much

Government came in on the promise that they would do something about this. I think most people will be shocked to learn the Government is trying to stop country labelling for unprocesse­d meat, while saying the opposite in public.’

New regulation­s on clear labelling for fresh, unprocesse­d cuts of meat are to be introduced next April. Initially, it was proposed that all processed food containing meat should be labelled with its country of origin. But this requiremen­t has now been removed after meat i ndustry groups launched a sustained lobbying drive to influence British ministers.

Documents leaked to the Daily Mail reveal a series of meetings were held last year between industry figures and senior British civil servants – weeks before new regulation­s were discussed in Brussels.

Meat industry representa­tives were even asked to provide the Government with ‘ case studies’ illustrati­ng how burdensome new rules would be. One industry body has since boasted to members that it ‘ persuaded the UK Minister to oppose mandatory labelling’.

Ministers in Defra, the department for food, argue that it would cost too much to force companies to comply with the tighter rules.

This contrasts with Mr Cameron’s views in opposition, when he said it was ‘ completely wrong’ that consumers were not told whether or not the meat in products they were buying was British.

His party even launched an Honest Food campaign, pledging compulsory labels that would clearly list where it had come from.

The campaign was taken up again after the horsemeat scandal last year, in which equine flesh was found in supermarke­t burgers and ready-meals. At the time, Environmen­t Secretary Owen Paterson proclaimed the EU should accelerate plans for clearly labelling the origin ‘of all processed meat’.

Yesterday Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Associatio­n, accused Defra of allowing big businesses to dictate policy. ‘ Owen Paterson and his ministers are saying all the right things, but there is a gap between the rhetoric and what gets done. So who is pulling the strings?’

Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers Union, added: ‘We have always been led to believe the Government was in favour of clear country of origin labelling on any meat in food, so I find this is very strange behaviour from our ministers.’ Labour farming spokesman Huw Irranca- Davies, said: ‘A year after the horsemeat scandal consumers rightly want to know what they are eating and where it has come from.’

Mr Eustice submitted formal documents to the European Commission i n January, arguing that national labelling for all meat ingre- dients would place an unnecessar­y financial burden on business.

In an ‘Explanator­y Memorandum’ submitted to the Commission, he wrote: ‘The Government view is that any extension of mandatory country of origin labelling could only be considered if it could be demonstrat­ed that it was straightfo­rward to operate, not burdensome to businesses and not trade- distorting.’ Mr Eustice’s interventi­on was hailed as a victory by lobbyists, including the British Meat Processors Associatio­n, one of the groups that had met his officials.

The trade body wrote in its annual report that it had ‘fought off potentiall­y complicate­d and costly’ EU rules on country of origin labelling.

Emails leaked to the Mail show that Defra met with meat trade organisati­ons several times in late 2013, shortly after proposals had been published by the European Commission.

New rules are to be introduced next April on labelling on fresh and unprocesse­d meat – but the rules will not apply to anything involving processed food.

The British Meat Processors Associatio­n said that independen­t research, commission­ed by the European Commission, had concluded that labelling could be costly and the public would not be willing to pay for it.

A Defra spokesman said: ‘ The European Commission’s report made clear that new regulation­s on processed meat products would have no impact on food safety.’

 ??  ?? Controvers­y: The meat industry was embroiled in scandal just last year when horsemeat was found in shops
Controvers­y: The meat industry was embroiled in scandal just last year when horsemeat was found in shops

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom