C is for Climate Change & Country of origin labelling

United Kingdom

The UK government’s Food 2030 seeks to set out the key trends and policy objectives concerning the food industry for the next 20 years.  It puts the challenges of climate change, diminishing resources and depleted fish stock as well as an increasing global population as the key obstacles to achieving the goal of a sustainable food system.

The goals of a sustainable food system:

  • Consumers are informed, and can choose, and afford healthy, sustainable food. This demand is met by profitable, competitive, highly skilled and resilient farming, fishing and food businesses, supported by first class research and development.
  • Food is produced, processed, and distributed to feed a growing global population in ways which: 
    • use global natural resources sustainably,
    • enable the continuing provision of the benefits and services given to us by a healthy natural environment,
    • promote high standards of animal health and welfare,
    • protect food safety,
    • make a significant contribution to rural communities, and
    • allow us to show global leadership on food sustainability.
  • Our food security is ensured through strong UK agriculture and food sectors, and international trade links with EU and global partners which support developing economies.
  • The UK has a low carbon food system which is efficient in using resources - any waste is reused, recycled or used for energy generation

Reduction of waste and carbon emissions are therefore key to the UK’s food strategy in conjunction with getting the most out of the resources available, increased efficiency and technological innovation - ‘more for less’. 

In conjunction with this there is to be increased consumer education against food waste and the environment as well as a healthier diet.  Consumer choice and the demand for seasonal local produce as against imported foods with excessive ‘food miles’ attached to them is behind the drive for clearer country of origin labelling.

Food 2030 sets out the aim of encouraging wider public interest in how and where food is produced by:· 

  • establishing clear and unambiguous country of origin labelling rules,· 
  • providing consumers with better environmental and welfare information about their food and how it was produced.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) published new research about country of origin labelling on 14 January 2010.  This is intended to inform EU discussions on the proposed new European Food Information Regulation.

The findings included that price and food safety information on labels were considered by consumers to be, on the whole, more important than country of origin labelling, but some consumers are willing to pay a small amount more if the origin of their food was important to them, particularly in relation to meat products. 

There was some confusion over whether ‘country of origin’ referred to where animals were born, raised or slaughtered or whether this referred only to where a food product has been produced.  The current proposed EU Food Information Regulation will require businesses that make origin claims to provide further information, so that people will know where their food actually comes from, not just where it was processed. 

FSA guidance for industry and enforcement authorities on country of origin labelling (as revised September 2009) is accessible here.  The guidance represents best practice for UK businesses.