Controversy still rages over incorrect food labelling

It’s bad enough that unknown (but certainly huge) quantities of horse meat were, and are still, being labelled and sold as beef; and that’s just one of many news stories about food products that contain various substances not on the label. It’s even more discouraging to consumers when they discover a ‘local’ product is not what it’s cracked up to be.

Another recent survey by government regulators reported that nearly 20% of foods sold in England and Wales do not live up to their labels. This isn’t the first time Local Government Regulation investigators found discrepancies between label and product or claim and actuality. People who think they’re supporting local farms and businesses by purchasing foods labelled ‘locally grown’ and/or ‘organic’ are often paying more for something that was shipped from overseas.

Just a few examples of misleading and fraudulent labels were on Devon ham (from Denmark) Welsh lamb (from New Zealand) and Somerset butter (from Scotland). The investigation included shops, supermarkets, restaurants and manufacturers, and amongst 558 products labelled as locally produced, 18% were definitely not, and 14% were unverifiable in origin, thus highly suspect.

The Food Law Code of Practice loosely defines ‘local’ as grown or produced within or no more than 50 kilometres from the borders of the county where’s it’s advertised as a local product. The Food Standards Agency set up by the government in 2000 is meant to protect consumers from health hazards in foods both imported and home grown, but they do not regulate or dictate advertising practices on a local basis.

That job belongs to local authorities, working in compliance with the Food Safety Act and with food producers all along the line, to make sure that food products are correctly labelled and advertised.

The FSA is meant to insure that all foods meet consumer expectations in terms of substance and quality as well as where and how the food is produced. Even so, terms such as ‘local’, ‘organic’, ‘free-range’, ‘home grown’ etc. are not legally defined, and there is still a lot of misleading advertising and consumer confusion.