Pub groups must stop hiding behind excuses and give customers more information on the origin of meat on the menu, says Labour minister Lord Rooker.
Speaking at a Meat & Livestock Commission (MLC) Origin of Meat in Foodservice symposium in Westminster today, the minister for sustainable farming and food said self- regulation must be seen to be effective if the foodservice industry is to avoid laws compelling outlets to identify the country of origin of meat.
Lord Rooker said: "The climate has changed dramatically in recent years", and that consumers now expect to know the origin of food they eat out of home.
While acknowledging that it could be a complex issue, for example when supply chain flexibility meant ingredients may come from different countries at different times, the minister said the food industry had found it easy enough to introduce "defensive labelling" when necessary. "For example, labelling products 'GM-free' at a time when no genetically modified ingredients had even been approved for use."
He added that "legislation would be complex," but if the MLC voluntary guidelines on origin labelling in foodservice were not more widely used, "the pressure would be to take some form of regulatory action."
The MLC event, attended by policy makers and industry representatives, was given clear evidence that room can be found for local provenance when it suits pub operators. For example, one menu from a leading pub-restaurant chain singled out British steak and Aberdeen Angus burger on the menu, but made no mention of the source of meat in other dishes.
Richard Lowe, MLC consumer affairs director, said: "I think it's clear pubs think there would be a commercial disadvantage if customers knew the origin of some of the meat they serve." However, with no question that meat sourced from other countries is of lower quality, the MLC believes consumers should be able to make informed choices when ordering food out-of-home.