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"it has to be realistic and manageable" Rennate Sommer on Country of Origin Labeling

"...it has to be realistic and manageable." Rennate Sommer on Country of Origin Labeling

Potential amendments to food information are once again being discussed as ‘Origin labelling’ is thrust under the microscope after an ENVI vote yesterday. 

Country of Origin Labelling details the entire journey of a product, “when fish, meat or poultry is not born, raised and processed in the same country all three countries must be listed[1].” No small task for manufactures and it is also questionable what a consumer gains from having access to this excess of information.

Rennate Sommer, MEP, put the issue in perspective, using strawberries as an example; “the origin of strawberries may change from one week to the other depending on cost and seasonality. Is the manufacturer supposed to print 20 different labels for each batch, or list all the possible origins?[2]

Goods are imported and exported from around the globe with such frequency that supplying that level of information would surely cause financial headaches for manufactures. 12% of all Emergency Product Recalls in the UK are due to misprinted labels.[3] To enforce the complete country of origin labelling, could increase these figures. A manufacturer has a responsibility to ensure a systematic thoroughness and continuity in the portrayal of information; the problem with packaging is absolutely with communication, but how much information does the public really want or need?


Thinking about Food

Inconsistent or changeable information printed on the label, runs the risk of undermining the enthusiasm for exotic goods. Consumers enjoy picking their goods; like an ingredients connoisseur, they recognise the seasonality or superiority of products originating from various countries. If the product information were to frequently change, would it affect their faith in an otherwise stable company and brand? Does inconsistent product information, give an impression of uncertainty, or flippancy? Certainly, it is something to consider.

It is correct that consumers should question their food, but by no means should origin labelling stir suspicion in consumers. It could be argued that an excess of origin information, would not clarify the situation, but rather raise further questions about why the product needs stop-offs and processing points and also throws into questions if manufacturers prefer price over quality.

There is no denying the public interest in a product’s original country of origin. As discussed previously in this blog, the British population are an experimental bunch with an eclectic palette. A recent study by Discover the Origin saw the 79% of the UK cooked with European products, 46% saying they like to experiment with foreign produce and as previously discussed, 62% incorporate ingredients to make fusion foods[4]. The credibility and quality of the goods we use has social connotations and makes us feel better about what we are eating. In the same survey, “94% thought the quality of ingredients is important,” with 64% of women saying that “origin matters.[5]

We and our suppliers have access to product specification software. It means we are endlessly rewriting and printing new labels to make certain the right product information reaches our customers. The process is complex, but essential. Part of the Euro Foods brand value, is that we celebrate and deliver exotic foods to the British doorstep. Investing in product origin labels is another part of our working day.

We agree that the complete information should be accessible, but how should we give that information to our customers could be debated. Does the extended product origin need to be printed on the packet, or are there other ways of giving information? Certainly, with online accessibility it seems that product tracking could be an option, but that again would be a massive undertaking for manufactures.

If country of origin labelling is to be an informative success, it must continue to encourage, rather than limit the British public’s passion for the exotic and tantalize exploration and experimentation.