Defra’s ‘gold standard’ food labelling system may not replace other assurance schemes such as Red Tractor or RSPCA Assured, a top official has said.
Karen Lepper, the department’s deputy director, made the comments at a Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum event in London last week.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove unveiled his plans for a ‘gold standard’ labelling system at the Oxford Farming Conference at the beginning of the year, saying it would provide a single, scaled, measure of how farmers perform in terms of soil health, pollution control, contribution to water quality and animal welfare.
Since then, very little further detail has been provided about the system, which Defra plans to link to farm payments under the new public money for public goods scheme.
Ms Lepper has now said the plan is to use the ‘gold standard’ to provide better information for shoppers, encourage them to make healthy choices and drive ‘more sustainable and environmentally-friendly food production’.
This will be done by creating a ‘high-level common framework’ for measuring and valuing on-farm and food system sustainability.
“It is not necessarily aimed at creating a new assurance scheme,” Ms Lepper said.
“There are already a number of ways in which farmers can secure recognition for high animal welfare and environmental standards, from the Red Tractor scheme to the LEAF marque, and Defra encourages farmers to meet the high standards recognised by these schemes.
“This is more about a common vocabulary which acknowledges how the existing schemes complement each other, how they interface with regulation and to understand where any gaps might exist.”
But Nick Palmer, head of policy at Compassion in World Farming, who was also speaking at the event, claimed shoppers were being confused by all the different labels on food and called for a single, mandatory labelling system.
“Having multiple labelling systems with different supermarkets and different producers adopting different schemes makes people give up,” he said.
“They wonder, is Sainsbury’s pure milk better or worse than Tesco high welfare milk or organic milk?
“We need to look for a labelling system which commands fairly broad support and which is mandatory, because if you have a system where some food has labels and some does not, the effect is to undermine the people who have taken the trouble to provide the information on the label.”