Environment Secretary backs “clearer labelling” for British produce

Posted: 8 January 2024 | | No comments yet

Steve Barclay, Environment Secretary, promises UK Government will “rapidly consult on clearer labelling” to tackle “unfairness created by misleading labelling and protect farmers and consumers”.


At the 2024 Oxford Farming Conference, Steve Barclay, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), announced the UK Government’s plans to support “clearer labelling” for British food produce, including the use of a UK GI logo on food packaging. 

Appointed in November 2023, Barclay’s role as the Environment Secretary means he has specific responsibilities for budget, including ODA, as well as international relations.

During his speech on 4 January at the Oxford Farming Conference, Barclay took time to outline what the UK Government defines as “the biggest upgrade to the UK’s farming schemes”.

Stating “food security is fundamental to our wider national security”, Barclay shared that he is committed to “bringing a clearer focus on enabling food production in our environmental land management schemes, because food production can and should go hand in hand with preserving the diversity and abundance of nature”.

As part of his speech, Barclay confirmed that there will be updates on prices in environmental land management schemes and shared there will be an average 10 percent uplift to unlock more money for these schemes. In short, Barclay confirmed that the UK Government will “pay [farmers] more for taking part in our environmental and management schemes,” something he hopes will “[make] it more attractive for [farmers] to get involved”.

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“Those already in schemes will automatically benefit from this uplift. And in addition, if you have a plan to pull things together in a way that makes a significant difference, you will be paid a premium for that as well,” continued Barclay.

However, the Environment Secretary also shared his desire to build “more trust” between farmers and UK Government.

“The feedback I have received suggests too often farmers feel the regulatory bodies start from a position of suspicion rather than one of trust,” said Barclay.

Call for clearer labelling

Going further, Barclay highlighted that the UK Government will “rapidly consult on clearer labelling” as a way to “tackle the unfairness created by misleading labelling and protect farmers and consumers”.

In 2022, just over 18.1 million hectares of land were used for agricultural farming in the UK. However, according to Statista, this figure slightly decreased in the past few years and peaked at around 18.8 million in 2017. In spite of this decrease, the agricultural sector contributed more than 12.1 billion British pounds in gross value to the national economy in 2021 alone.

“British farmers are rightly proud of producing food that meets and often exceeds our world leading animal welfare and environmental standards. And British consumers want to buy this top-quality food. But too often products produced to lower welfare standards overseas aren’t clearly labelled to differentiate them,” continued Barclay.

As part of the UK Government’s plan to emphasise best of British produce via labelling, the Environment Secretary shared plans to highlight how it can “better highlight imports that do not meet UK welfare standards, improve how origin information is given online, and look at how we can do even more to ensure promotional activity such as Union Jack labels on supermarket displays matches the products on the shelf”.

As part of the consultation, concerns such as the pork reared to lower welfare standards overseas, which is then processed in the UK and presented in supermarkets to shoppers as British, will be looked at.  

As part of the clearer labelling plan, the UK Government has said that it will be looking into whether existing country of origin labelling rules can be strengthened by mandating how and where origin information is displayed. This will include considering whether front of pack country origin labelling will allow farmers to be “fairly rewarded for meeting and often exceeding high UK welfare standards”.

However it isn’t just British consumers that Barclay believes this labelling change will appeal to, in fact he stated that this “gets a massive vote of confidence from consumers around the world to the tune, in fact, of around 24 billion in exports for the British economy”.

From the beginning of 2024, all geographical indication products made and sold in Great Britain will be using the UK GI logo, something the Environment Secretary says “protects the geographical names of food and drink”.

“UK producers will also be able to use this logo on products sold abroad, which will help even more of your product stand out from the crowd both at home and overseas.”

The recent announcements made by Environment Secretary signal potential benefits for British farmers. The proposed clearer labelling initiative could offer consumers more transparency and help farmers showcase their commitment to high animal welfare and environmental standards. Barclay’s emphasis on building trust between farmers and the government indicates a desire for collaboration and understanding, with the Environment Secretary concluding his speech by sharing his desire to “better reflect the high standards of British farmers and empower consumers, leverage public sector procurement and expand our export potential”.

“I want to ensure government and regulatory bodies are more responsive to your diverse needs. Reflecting that you are the custodians of the land that you care for. More money, more choice, more trust. That is my approach to putting farmers at the heart of government policy, working with you to promote food production as part of a shared commitment. to economic growth,” concluded Barclay.

To read the full speech made by Barclay at the Oxford Farming Conference, click here.

Stay updated with New Food in the coming weeks to find out how British farmers have responded to this announcement.

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