Lochhead presses case in Brussels
By Philippa Stephen
SCOTS CONSUMERS need a clear indication of where their food originates from, with the introduction of a legal obligation for retailers to use country of origin labelling.
This was the message which was pressed home in the corridors of Brussels this week, as Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, made the case, once more, during a meeting with European farm commissoner Mariann Fischer Boel.
Country of origin labelling has long been on the political agenda in Scotland, but has made "frustratingly slow progress".
But, Ms Fischer Boel, praised the "holistic" approach of the Scottish Government's new national food and drink policy.
"Our delicious produce is already widely respected across the globe, and now many countries are taking an interest in our new national food and drink policy," said Mr Lochhead after the meeting.
"Commissioner Boel was interested to hear about our close links with primary producers and was particularly impressed with the integrated and cross-cutting nature of our approach.
"I took the opportunity to make the case for county of origin labelling in order to give consumers clearer guidance about the food they are buying. This is an issue of huge importance to Scotland and Commissioner Boel vowed that the EC would work hard to secure labelling rules that provide accurate information to consumers.
"The increased interest in food provenance means that we will continue to press for provision to be enshrined in European legislation to allow countries to introduce mandatory origin labelling," he added.
"In the short-term, we are already working to ensure the industry does what it can to ensure that people know more about where their food comes from. This includes a new tool kit for hotels and restaurants and new origin labelling advice and guidance."
But NFU Scotland is increasingly becoming frustrated by the slow progress of the issue, despite being firmly apparent on the political agenda.
Commenting on the issue, NFUS president Jim McLaren said: "In launching Scotland's Food and Drink policy at the Highland Show recently, Mr Lochhead made a commitment to push in Europe for a legal obligation for retailers to label the country of origin on food products and Scottish farmers will welcome that this issue has been raised with Mrs Fischer Boel at the earliest opportunity.
"The issue of better labelling has dragged on for many years with frustratingly slow progress.
"Current arrangements allow a whole host of products that appear regularly on our shop shelves to hide behind the rules without the need to disclose where the primary ingredients come from.
"Only mandatory country of origin labelling on all fresh and processed foods will provide consumers with the level of information they deserve on which to base their shopping decisions.
"In the interim, we would look to our own supermarkets to voluntarily adopt a more responsible approach to better informing their customers about where their food originates from," said Mr McLaren.