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Lords debate honest labelling of pork products

by 5m Editor
24 July 2004, at 12:00am

UK - Labour peer Lord Carter, who last week launched NPA's Best Practice Guidelines for Retailers and Foodservice, asked in the Lords this week: "What steps are the government taking to ensure that imports of pork and processed pork conform to UK legal minimum standards with respect to pig welfare?"

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Lord Whitty: My Lords, the vast majority of imports of pork and pork products into the UK are from other EU member states. All member states have to implement and comply with Directive 91/630/EC, as amended, which sets out minimum standards for the welfare of pigs. In certain respects, the UK has adopted higher standards, but the EU is now phasing in equivalent standards.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that the figures from the Meat and Livestock Commission show that 70 per cent of the pork and pork products imported into this country in 2003 did not conform to UK legal minimum standards of animal welfare? Do the Government support the best practice guidelines, which ask retailers and food service companies to be clear and transparent in the standards that they require from their suppliers and ask them clearly to label the products that they sell, including the country of origin?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, on the second point, the industry has helpfully produced that industry code. The Government certainly support the principles of that approach. As regards the 70 per cent figure, it is clear that any trade within the EU is subject to EU standards. Therefore, 70 per cent of the imports are not to UK standards or do not have to be to UK standards, although some EU imports are direct to our retailers, which often require that the pork is produced to UK standards. So the 70 per cent figure is probably a slight exaggeration, but it is true that the UK standards are not mandatory.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, what further steps can the Government take to ensure that the country of origin of imported pig meat is clearly identified on meat packages? Is the Minister aware that the Meat and Livestock Commission has samples, which I have seen, where one needs a magnifying glass to find the country of origin and certain packages where the country of origin is not identified at all but the meat is known to be produced in this country for packaging by well known importers?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, under EU law at present it would not be possible for us to require country-of-origin labelling. Currently, there are discussions within the EU on future labelling requirements, which include country of origin. We have supported proposals in those discussions to allow the requirement that country of origin is labelled. Of course, in practice, quite frequently the supermarkets voluntarily designate country of origin.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, will the Minister note that the British Pig Executive has said that other EU countries are not enforcing welfare standards? It says that because of that those countries have a competitive edge on UK producers in the market by undercutting them, which is devastating the pig industry. Will the Minister introduce a labelling system on imports that do not meet those standards and indicate a lower welfare production system than is the case in the UK?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have just answered a question in relation to labelling and what the Government can and cannot do about it. But at point of sale quite a lot of pork is clearly labelled with country of origin under voluntary arrangements.

Enforcing standards in other EU countries is not the central point. The vast majority of EU countries, particularly in the pork sector of agriculture, manage effective enforcement. In certain respects relating to stalls and tethers we are ahead of EU requirements. It is also true that some EU countries, including big suppliers to this country like the Netherlands, also have slightly higher than minimum EU standards. So we are not alone in that respect.

Lord Plumb: My Lords, although the Food Standards Agency is currently looking at legislation, does the Minister accept that it has already indicated that it will be 2010 before a report is produced? Why is it going to take that long when it is perfectly obvious that consumers want food labelling anyway? Is he aware of the voluntary scheme that has been started in Ireland? The country of origin is clearly marked on imported products as it is known that a lot of those products come from countries where the welfare standards are nowhere near as high as they are either in Ireland or in this country. Does the noble Lord support his ministerial colleague in Ireland, who is seeking the compulsory labelling of beef and insisting that meat products sold over the counter or in restaurants should carry a label showing the country of origin? Surely that is a clear lead for the rest of Europe.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in discussions within Europe both the Irish and ourselves have taken the view that we should change the position so that we would no longer be prevented from requiring a label showing the country of origin. Those discussions continue and will conclude well before 2010 and, it is to be hoped, will lead to changes in the labelling requirements from the EU so as allow us to introduce mandatory labelling. However, a vast amount of voluntary labelling can be done, in particular under the code referred to by my noble friend Lord Carter, which impinges in this area. Many supermarkets and meat producers already do that.

On differential standards, it is important to recognise that the vast bulk of pork imports to this country come from the Netherlands and Denmark. Both of those countries have pretty high standards of pork care. Moreover, European standards will, if you like, catch up with British standards. We have already incurred the expenses attached to meeting such standards, whereas our competitors will now have to face the expense of meeting those requirements.

Source: National Pig Association - 23rd July 2004

5m Editor