Government commits to consult on clearer food labelling standards

A photo of Steve Barclay at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Photograph: Oxford Farming Conference

New food labelling plans will ensure that British produce will ‘stand out from the crowd’, Defra says. 

It hopes that changes to food labelling will allow consumers to make better decisions at the supermarket, whilst also highlighting high quality, British produce to the public.

New food labelling would also make it clearer when imported products do not meet the same UK welfare standards.

The commitment to consult on changes was announced by Environment Secretary Steve Barclay during his speech at the 2024 Oxford Farming Conference.

Mr Barclay said that clear food labelling would help to “tackle the unfairness created by misleading labelling”, whilst also backing domestic food production.

Commenting on Defra's plans to consult, NFU President Minette Batters stressed the importance for labelling to be “clear, simple and contain accurate information” that allows the public to choose products produced by British farmers to high animal welfare standards.

“All we ask is that food labels are clear, simple and contain accurate information, so as not to mislead shoppers."

NFU President Minette Batters

Animal welfare labelling a priority for Defra

In recent years, Defra has focused its food labelling policy efforts around animal welfare, sustainability, health and country of origin.

During his speech, Mr Barclay said: “British farmers take pride in producing food that meets, and often exceeds, our world-leading animal welfare and environmental standards.

“British consumers want to buy this top-quality food, but too often products produced to lower standards overseas aren’t clearly labelled to differentiate them.”

There has been a long call for clarity from the NFU on food labelling, suggesting that existing technology such as QR codes could be utilised to direct consumers towards information such as environmental metrics or animal welfare information.

Read our expert analysis: Food labelling – why what it says on the tin may not be so simple

Work continues to encourage shoppers to ‘buy British’   

Also in his announcement, the Environment Secretary shared plans to work with major online retailers to make the origin of their food products clearer, including further roll out of ‘buy British’ sections on supermarket websites.

This comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently commented in Parliament that his government will “continue to encourage” British supermarkets to do all they can to showcase British produce.

“We will of course respond to any future government consultation on labelling including how an online Buy British Button can be adopted by more retailers,” Minette said.

“It is great that Morrisons has already launched this with a ‘British’ section online and we hope that will pave the way for other supermarkets to follow suit.”

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