U.K. ministers may force the food industry to label fresh foods with their origin. The legislation would be aimed at protecting dairy farmers from market fluctuations, but could have excellent side effects for consumers.
U.K. supermarkets are some of the most aggressive on the planet. They enter into exclusive contracts with suppliers, locking farmers to a single customer for their goods. They then use this to dictate the prices they will pay to the farmers. Worse, short-term contracts let the supermarkets switch to imported sources when prices rise.
The new laws being considered by U.K. ministers would force supermarkets to put the sources of their fresh foods onto the labels. Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss says that less than half of cheese and butter sold in the U.K. is made from British milk. Putting this fact on the package would let consumers choose domestically sourced products. And while British consumers sat by and let the supermarkets destroy local grocery stores and markets, they’re rabid when it comes to supporting a well-publicized cause.
Farmers also want longer-term contracts so they can ride out price fluctuations without the supermarkets abandoning them for cheap imports.
Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers Union, says that it is “debatable whether laws could be introduced that forced retailers to state on packaging where their food had been sourced,” but success in this area could be a huge boon for consumers.
Take honey as an example. If you want to buy locally produced honey, it’s almost impossible to do so in a supermarket. Buried in the label is a line telling you the the contents of the jar are from “EU and non-EU sources” (as dictated by European law). The picture on the front of the jar might show a sunny local farm, and even the name may lead you to believe that it’s from your own country, but that honey almost certainly a mix from several continents.
Forcing better labeling would not only make it easier to choose something local, it would raise awareness amongst less well-informed consumers, and also shame supermarket buyers into offering local options.