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Method of Production labelling fraught with challenges

View profile for Tim Russ
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Calls for a mandatory ‘method of production’ label on meat and dairy products could be fraught with challenges and the recent proposals from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) could be impossible to police.

The BVA has suggested that method of production labelling would provide consumers with clear information on animal welfare, and could offer British farmers a unique selling point post-Brexit.

The Association argues that this would be an extension of legislation that has been implemented already for shell eggs, which must legally be labelled either as “eggs from caged hens”, “barn eggs”, “free range” or “organic”.

Animal welfare is a very important issue and at first sight this is an appealing idea. However, it would create many practical challenges for food producers.

The reality of the modern food industry is that meat and dairy products are often sourced internationally. So it’s perfectly possible that a pack of chicken thighs may include poultry from several sources. Equally, a yogurt product may be made with milk from several sources and a sausage might include pork from several countries.

Whilst reputable companies will have full traceability for their ingredients, reproducing information about the welfare standards of all dairy and meat ingredients on a label would be time consuming and expensive. Food labelling is already a challenging issue for many businesses and additional obligations would add more complexity with little consumer benefit.

The industry has already made considerable efforts to communicate welfare standards to consumers with labels such as Red Tractor or the RSPCA’s Freedom Food logo, and there are many other schemes competing for food producers’ attention.

The BVA is right to highlight the opportunity that Brexit offers to make changes to food labels. However, post-Brexit things would become more, rather than less complicated if British food manufacturers have to follow different UK and EU labelling requirements. One of the expected benefits of Brexit is less red tape not more.

A recent American report by Label Insight, a company that collects and analyses food label data, found 94% of consumers would be more loyal to brands that are transparent about what ingredients their products contain and where those products are sourced.

Ultimately, a voluntary approach to method of production labelling may be better as it would provide brands with a way of differentiating their products as well as charging a premium.