“Honesty in labelling is what is needed” says Neil Parish PPC

Consumers like to know where their food has come from. They like to buy local food because it has travelled fewer miles and they can rely on its quality and traceability.What can government do about food labelling so that we know what we are buying and exactly where it has come from. Honesty is what is needed.Why was it that a couple of years ago, when we had an outbreak of avian influenza in turkeys, that it was traced back to Hungary? It was because turkeys were brought in from Hungary, tilled and processed in Suffolk, with the breast meat being sold onto the British Market and the rest of the turkey meat returning to Hungary to be processed into sausages. It would have been far cheaper to have killed and processed the turkeys in Hungary, so why bring them to Suffolk? The reason was that when they were processed in Suffolk the turkey breast could be labelled “product of the EU, processed in the UK” with a union flag on the packet, so many people would buy the meat thinking it was British.I am happy to trade with Hungary, let us have clear labelling so we know exactly where our meat has come from. Another of my hobby horses is processed food. This where much of our imported meat and eggs enter our food chain, the label on the processed food only states where is has been processed, not where the ingredients have come from. There is no reason why the origins of the principle ingredients have come from. There is no reason why the origins of the principle ingredients should not be stated on the label and if the label is too long then a bar code could be used so that the ingredients can be traced.Here in Devon and Cornwall we have many free range poultry units with high welfare standards in both egg and chicken production. Farmers can achieve a higher price for the whole egg which they market, but 70% of egg production in the world is traded in either powder or liquid form. If we are going to demand high standards of welfare from our egg producing farmers we need to be sure that processors are not going to import egg products that have been produced under lower standards in other parts of the world.Another area with which the government needs to concern itself is the 2 billion pounds worth of food brought for public procurement mostly not home produced. Much of the food does not meet our own welfare and traceability standards so we need to be sure our troops are marching on British beef. You can be sure the French troops are eating French beef!Artificial nitrogen fertiliser uses large amounts of natural gas in its manufacture and the use of fertiliser has dropped by over 30% in the last 10 years. We need to use our fertiliser sparingly whilst keeping up food production; organic production of food can help to give consumers choice and reduce fertiliser use, but it will not feed our ever increasing population. Future governments will have to tackle the thorny issue of bio-technology. There are weeks and oil-seed rapes in the pipe line which need a third less nitrogen to grow, a huge potential saving in artificial fertiliser and natural gases. Light-resistant potatoes are being grown for starch production. If proven safe for human consumption, this would save on huge amounts of light spray especially in a wet, humid year. The ever increasing buying power of the supermarkets must be tackle, possibly by having a food ombudsman or a new code of practice enforced by the Office of Fair Trading. It would need to have real teeth in stopping the big buyers unfairly driving down the price paid to farmers and growers. The future of our family farms in the Westcountry will depend on our farmers receiving a fair price on what they produce.Recently a survey was carried out on our major retailers concerning the percentage of British and local beef for sale on their shelves. Budgeons and Waitrose came out on top on having been supplying 100% British beef, up from 98% in 2008. The naughty boys and girls in the classroom are Sainsbury and ASDA who are only stocking +68% and 45% respectively and in my end of term report I would say we look forward to a marked improvement next year.My advice is to please look carefully when you buy in our supermarkets to make sure that they are stocking local and British produce. If they are not, ask the management why not and if the label is unclear of misleading, then tackle the shop!The power of the consumer is huge if we combine our power as consumers with looking after our local farmers, producers and growers, the countryside and all of us will be healthy.