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29 Oct 2008 : Column 897

Food Labelling

12.31 pm

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): I beg to move,

The first occasion on which I sought the leave of the House to introduce a Bill to require clearer labelling of food was in 2004. I was certainly not the first Member to seek to introduce such legislation, and many Members throughout the House have supported the proposition that consumers should have clearer, more accurate and more honest information about the food that they buy than is currently required.

Since 2004, interest in local sourcing and local production of food has grown significantly. The issue of food miles has become more prominent in political discussion, and the importance to consumers of higher animal welfare standards has continued to increase. Only this morning, on the BBC Radio 4 programme “Farming Today”, an egg farmer spoke of his continued shift towards free-range hens for egg production, because that was what consumers wanted.

Attempts to improve the law continue. My own Bill has support from Members on all sides of the House, and I note that next week my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Helen Southworth) will seek leave to introduce her own food labelling Bill, which I understand focuses mainly on nutrition and health issues. It will complement my Bill, which, as well as providing information about the content and production standards of food, will ensure that information about the country of origin of different foods is included in labelling.

Consumers should have the information that they need to make informed decisions about the food that they buy. A wide range of issues may rightly concern them when they make their purchasing decisions, including the nutritional and calorific value of food, the salt or fat content, the animal welfare standards according to which food is produced, and the country of origin. Any food labelling regime must seek to address those various concerns. It is important that all food producers adhere to the same high standards applied to food labelling, and the best way in which to achieve that is through a statutory framework.

The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 require food to be marked or labelled with information such as the name of the food, a list of its ingredients, the amount of an ingredient that is named or associated with the food, an appropriate durability indication, any special storage conditions, the name of the business and manufacturer, and in certain cases, the place of origin, as well as the process used in the manufacture and instructions for use.

In July this year, the Food Standards Agency updated its guidance on the use of marketing terms such as “fresh”, “pure” and “natural”, but there was nothing new on country of origin labelling, although the guidance continues to draw attention to regulation 5 of the 1996 regulations, which requires

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Currently, country of origin labelling must comply with the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, which make it an offence to label any food in a way that falsely describes it or which is likely to mislead as to its nature, substance or quality. However, neither Act defines how much British involvement is required before produce can be sold as British.

The specific expression “country of origin” is not defined in the 1996 regulations or in the food labelling directive 2000/13/EC. However, the approach taken in section 36 of the Trade Descriptions Act is that, for the purposes of the Act, goods are deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country where they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change. This is likely to include the manufacture of bacon or ham, for example. However, at present, consumers are being misled. Pork that has been imported from Denmark and then packaged in the UK may be called “Product of Britain”.

The problem can apply to other food products, too. Butter churned in England using milk imported from Belgium should not, supposedly, be labelled “English”, but it can lawfully be described as “produced in England from milk”. Norwegian salmon that has been smoked in Scotland should not, supposedly, be called “Scottish”, but it can lawfully be described as “salmon smoked in Scotland”. Slaughtering in this country would count, so that “British lamb” could mean imported lambs slaughtered and packaged in the UK. Products can be labelled as “produced in the UK” when all the ingredients come from outside the country. There is concern that some companies have taken advantage of these slack regulations, and label their products with the Union Jack accompanied by slogans such as “traditional British food” or “great British recipe” when, in fact, they are not produced in this country.

There is, obviously, a duty on consumers to read the labels in the first place, but there is also a need to prevent labels, presentation and other information from being misleading about the product. Country of origin is an area where there is particular potential for consumers to be misled. Clear mandatory country of origin labelling would significantly reduce the risk that consumers making a food purchasing decision would be misled, or in practice be unable to use their consumer power to support domestic producers if that is what they wish to do.

Country of origin labelling already exists for beef, and I believe it should be extended to cover other fresh meat. There are more complex issues in the labelling of processed meat and dairy products, where the sourcing frequently varies. I acknowledge that these issues would need to be considered carefully in Committee. Modern labelling technology has improved considerably in recent years, and I am persuaded that it would now be easier for processed food manufacturers to comply with country of origin labelling requirements than it was in the past, but I acknowledge that processed food does present greater difficulties in labelling than fresh meat.

This morning, I was pleased to attend the David Black memorial award breakfast in the House of Lords, celebrating the achievements of the British pig industry despite very difficult conditions in recent years, and
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particularly to honour the contribution to the industry of this year’s award winner, Ian Campbell MBE. I was also pleased to receive a copy of a film entitled “An Inconvenient Trough”, made by a group of pig farmers and launched this morning. It is an excellent follow-up to the campaign “Stand by Your Ham”, which last summer featured Winnie the pig in a stall opposite Downing street, where she drew thousands of visitors, including many Members. This film draws attention to the conditions facing pig farmers, notably that 70 per cent. of the imports of pork and pork products into the United Kingdom are produced to animal welfare standards that would be unlawful in this country. It is in that context that we must look at country of origin labelling. I must emphasise that this is not in order to prevent consumers buying products from where they wish, but, rather, to ensure that they are making informed decisions and that they cannot be misled.

Government can also do more. The pig industry has produced its own quality standard mark for pork, and for other pork products such as bacon and ham. The mark shows that the meat has been produced to higher animal welfare standards, yet 76 per cent. of bacon and 39 per cent. of pork served in Whitehall Departments is produced to the lower EU standards, not the higher standards of the quality standard mark.

I make no secret of the fact that I wish all consumers would buy British meat all the time, but achieving that is a matter for consumers and is not the purpose of my Bill. I just want to see a fair deal for British farmers. I want to ensure that they are given the chance to compete fairly with overseas products, that the lower animal welfare standards often applied to imported production are clearly marked for consumers as well as the higher standards of domestic production, that farmers are able to engage the consumer in supporting the high standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental care that lie at the heart of British farming and that they cannot be undermined by misleading labelling of competing products. A vital part of facilitating that shift in priorities will be to ensure that this country has far more rigorous and transparent food labelling. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Richard Bacon, Keith Hill, Mr. Keith Simpson, Andrew Mackinlay, Mr. David Heath, Mr. Stephen O’Brien, Mr. David Ruffley, Angus Robertson, Mr. Roger Williams and Sir Nicholas Winterton.

Food Labelling

Mr. Richard Bacon accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision for relevant information about food, including information about the country of origin, contents and standards of production of that food, to be made available to consumers by labelling, marking or in other ways; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 November, and to be printed [Bill 157].

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Opposition Day

[11th Allotted Day—Second Part]

Olympic Legacy

[Relevant documents: The Sixth Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 2007-08, HC 104-1, London 2012 Games: the next lap, the Government response, Cm 7437, and the uncorrected transcript of evidence taken before the Committee on 7th October 2008, HC 1071-i, on London 2012 Games: Lessons from Beijing.]

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.42 pm

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): I beg to move,

The Opposition have been unstinting in our support for London 2012. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), when he was leader of the Conservative party, gave his personal assurance at the time of the bid that London 2012 would have the full support of a future Conservative Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson), the shadow Olympics and Sports Minister, was in Singapore for the bid, stressing and underlining the cross-party nature of the support for the project.

The Government may say today that by initiating this Opposition day debate on the Olympic legacy, we are somehow breaking the Olympic consensus: nothing could be further from the truth. It is because we are passionately determined to ensure that London 2012 is a huge success that we have a duty to speak up when we think that things are going wrong.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): May I bring to the hon. Gentleman’s attention some of the points that we heard earlier in Prime Minister’s Question Time? There was, frankly, very little support for borrowing. Would he concede that the Olympic programme is founded on a massive construction project, and that unless we make commitments of the kind that this Government have made to the construction companies, we will go belly-up and we will not have any Olympics full stop?

Mr. Hunt: I agree completely with the hon. Lady that those construction projects need to go ahead, and within budget. The Opposition have totally supported the fact that some changes inevitably need to be made in a situation such as the financial crisis that we currently face, and I shall talk about those changes in a few minutes. My point is that when something goes wrong
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in a project of this scale, it is important to speak up. We did that over the appalling budget miscalculations that meant that the budget for the Olympics had to be virtually tripled, leading to hugely damaging effects on the national lottery good causes. We are speaking up now over the Olympic legacy, which is not only one of the most important elements of the 2012 project, but one of those most in danger of not being delivered.

Our concern is not primarily about the economic legacy, and our motion is not about that. We recognise that the project will bring huge and vitally needed regeneration to five of the poorest boroughs in London, although there are concerns about the possible reduction in the number of houses being built and the threats hanging over the money being invested in upgrading the North London line. Our motion is about the sporting legacy, which divides into two distinct areas. The first is the so-called hard legacy, which is the one that will be left behind by the venues built for the Olympics. The second is the soft legacy, which is the increase in sporting participation that should happen in not only the Olympic sports—that increase is welcome—but all sports. That will provide a challenge, because, as the Government’s own report acknowledges, participation in sport has decreased in a number of the host cities after they have held the Olympics.

Ensuring that the reverse happens is a challenge that we must meet, because these Olympics will cost every household—every family—in the country £500. They will cost the equivalent of £7 million every day from today until the opening ceremony, and that cost is being borne by taxpayers throughout the country. Thus, it is only right, proper and fair that the benefits should also be felt throughout the country. With a sporting legacy, the 2012 games can be a huge success; without it, they will be a gross betrayal of the promises made by Britain both to the world and to its own people.

The Government legacy action plan says that

Of course legacy projects need to be integrated into the main projects, but the danger of not having a separately costed plan is that when the going gets tough, they are the bit that gets cut. We are concerned about signs that that is exactly what is beginning to happen. At the time of the bid, huge play was made of the fact that the facilities constructed for volleyball, basketball and water polo would be temporary and relocatable, so that after the Olympics they could be taken down and moved to another part of the country, which could then benefit from the Olympic legacy. That will not happen in respect of volleyball, which will take place at Earls Court, or fencing, which will take place at the ExCeL centre, and there are signs that Sport England is backtracking in respect of some of the other sports.

That has led the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport to say the following on page 37 of its sixth report of Session 2007-08:

There was also huge concern when the shooting was moved from Bisley to the Royal Artillery barracks at Woolwich, where what will be constructed will be entirely temporary, leaving no legacy at all. The Select Committee report stated that it is

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Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has referred to the site for the shooting in Woolwich, in my constituency. Will he please tell the House whether his party is in favour of moving shooting to another location and, if so, to which one?

Mr. Hunt: My party is in favour of exactly what the Select Committee says: that, wherever possible, we should ensure that there is a permanent legacy. The current plans for shooting do not allow any legacy to be created, and we think it highly regrettable that more research was not done into making possible some kind of legacy for shooting from the Olympics.

May I ask the Secretary of State about design? When venues are being built, it is important that the potential legacy tenants—the people who will use the venues after the Olympics have finished—have some input into the design. Can he explain why design decisions have been taken before legacy tenants have been confirmed? That makes legacy use more expensive and less attractive to potential tenants. I compare that with what happened during the 2002 Commonwealth games in Manchester, when Manchester city was confirmed as a legacy tenant right from the outset, which meant that there could be a smooth transition and that a legacy could be assured.

This June, the Government finally published their legacy action plan—three years after winning the bid and following two warnings from the Select Committee that they needed to get a move on. If the plan had been even barely adequate, however, we would not be having this debate. However, the fact is that it contains simply a series of re-announcements and only one new idea. The Government re-announced the promise of five hours of sport per week. That is fine as an aspiration, but when unpicked it works out at £15 per school per week to increase the amount of sport from two to five hours a week for every pupil. They also re-announced the target of making 2 million people more active, which dates from March 2007, as well as the medals target, which dates back to the 2006 Budget. They also re-announced decisions in a Department for Transport plan to boost cycling and a Department of Health plan to encourage healthy eating by babies. We should not plan the 2012 legacy by cobbling together every single programme with vague links to sport and the Olympics. This is not about looking at what we are already doing, but about what we could do.

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