There is light at the end of the tunnel for confused consumers as a new labelling code of practice is introduced for the country of origin for pork and pork products.
Major supermarkets have endorsed the voluntary code which aims to give clear and unambiguous information about country of origin on packs of pork, bacon and ham.
The final code, launched today at the National Farmers Union Conference by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, has come about as a result of the Pig Meat Supply Chain Task Force which represents a broad range of stakeholders, including retailers, food service companies, consumers, processors, industry organisations, government and its agencies.
The Task Force was brought together by Defra and chaired by Food and Farming Minister Jim Fitzpatrick.
Mr Benn said: "A year ago I said that I wanted to end the nonsense of unclear country of origin labelling on pig meat products - and through the Task Force bringing together farmers, processors and retailers, we now have a code of practice that will do this.
"I expect all major retailers to sign up and join those who have already decided to end the confusion for shoppers. If they don't, their customers should ask them why they're not in favour of clear, honest labelling."
The key aim of the code will be to ensure that the country of origin of the pork used in processed products will be clearly displayed on the pack. For example, the code says that terms such as 'Produced in the UK' can be ambiguous if origin is not qualified.
Companies adhering to the new code have committed to providing clear information such as 'Produced in the UK using pork from country x.'
Production definitions, such as 'outdoor bred' and 'outdoor reared' are being finalised and an announcement on how these could be incorporated into labelling is expected in the near future.
The code of practice also covers the use of single country of origin descriptions and where pork from a number of different countries may be used. The key elements of country of origin include:
- A commitment to clearly display the country of origin on retail packs;
- Where single country of origin is displayed it means that the pig was born, reared and slaughtered in that country;
- The term "produced in the UK" will not be used without qualification of the origin of the pork;
- The use of national terms and symbols (such as flags) will mean that the pork comes from that country;
- Product specific terms such as Wiltshire Cure will mean that the pork used to make the product comes from within the UK. If not the origin will be clearly stated;
- Imagery that could imply UK origin will only be used on UK origin product, otherwise there will be a statement of origin on the pack;
- Food service outlets will make origin information readily available to customers such as on the menu, in literature or on company websites; and
- Where the term "local" is used it will be clearly defined.
NFU President Peter Kendall said: "British pig producers, who have embraced the highest standards of animal welfare enshrined in the Red Tractor pork logo, will welcome this Code of Practice and consumers will be able to make informed decisions knowing there is absolute clarity and transparency about country of origin."
Task Force member and chairman of BPEX and the NPA Stewart Houston said: "Clear labeling is great news for everyone in the supply chain, easier choice for consumers, more sales of British pork products for the retailer, benefiting both the producer and the processor."
Major companies already committed to the code include Asda, Baxter Storey, Marks and Spencer, Morrison's, Sainsbury's, Tesco, The Co-operative, Waitrose and Whitbread.
The Task Force will now seek to encourage more retailers and food service companies to sign up to the code before it goes live for consumers in April. A planned website will give consumers a list of those businesses who have signed up to the code.
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