Brexit gives the UK a unique opportunity to improve food labelling so it is better understood and gives shoppers greater confidence in the products they buy, says chair of the Efra Select Committee Neil Parish.
The clock continues to tick down towards Brexit. Towards the time when we will ‘take back control’.
And of all the areas for us to take back control from the EU, Defra is one of the largest policy areas.
From farming to the environment, it was estimated in 2016 that 80 per cent of legislation which affects Defra comes from the EU.
This legislation does not just include direct payment schemes such as the Common Agricultural Policy and environmental protections. It also includes food labelling.
Last week, the Government announced that it is carrying out a consultation into food labelling.
This consultation is only concerned with the possibility that we leave the EU without a deal, meaning that the Government would include any future food labelling in a trade deal with the EU.
Food labelling is an extremely important part of the supply chain.
It gives farmers credit for where the food has come from, ensures our food is traceable and improves consumer confidence in the product, which is why I am pleased to see the Government considering the future of food labelling when we leave the EU.
Although the Government has said this consultation on food labelling is only for use in the event that we do not reach an agreement with the EU, Ministers can still use the responses to improve our food labelling for the future.
Many consumers do not understand our current food labelling. Right now, it is complicated and inflexible. These difficult to understand labels can undermine consumer trust in our farming industry.
Improving labelling would work towards improving consumer trust, and has the potential to shorten our long supply chains, which are a contributory factor towards higher prices and a larger carbon footprint.
With improved food labelling, consumers will be able to make more informed choices on who they are buying their products from.
We can work towards ensuring food is sold locally to where it is produced, so that people can know they are supporting their local farmers.
If a consumer is purchasing meat, dairy, eggs or other animal products, then a food label can also include the animal welfare standards.
This not only means people will find it easier to buy local, but would also work to ensure our high animal welfare standards are maintained as we leave the EU.
Good country of origin labelling, combined with animal welfare labelling, would also contribute to the traceability of food, making sure that from farm to fork, people know exactly where their food is coming from.
Geographical Indicators will be key to good food labelling. Although the GI scheme is a good one, it is something we could work to improve further.
It protects the authenticity of certain products. Our Scotch Whiskey, Scottish Salmon and Welsh Beef and Lamb are all an important part of our farming sector.
People buy from our farmers with these Geographical Indicators knowing that, as a result, they are purchasing an authentic, high-quality product.
Geographical Indicators are something I am keen to keep as we leave the EU – meaning in theory that the EU could also keep its own GIs, such as champagne and Parma ham.
However, food labelling coming from outside the EU needs to be tight. Consumers deserve to know where their food is coming from and that they are buying high-quality food, with the high animal welfare standards they expect.
I am pleased to see the Government carrying out a consultation into future food labelling.
Leaving the EU offers the perfect opportunity to re-assess our food labelling – and I do not believe this is something that should only be considered in the event of a no-deal situation.
British farmers are rightly proud of their farming produce.
Our high-quality global brand recognition – the fact that British goods are seen as luxury goods – is in part down to the hard-work of our farmers.
A new food labelling system, designed by us, is a way of preserving this reputation for the world to see.
Neil can be found tweeting at @neil_parish