UK labeling regs on fast track

Published on
March 3, 2013

The horsemeat scandal in Europe is speeding up the European Union’s work on new food labeling regulations. As a result, seafood labels will be subject to stricter rules, including country-of-origin labeling.

While the new EU rules do not take effect until December 2014, the “industry is supposed to be getting its house in order and coming into compliance,” Paul Williams, chief executive of U.K. seafood association Seafish, told SeafoodSource.

“The horse meat scandal has accelerated the emphasis on [labeling rules] and brings up the issue of trusting suppliers of seafood as well,” Williams said.

Consumers surveyed about the horse meat issue said they were less bothered by the fact that they were eating horse meat, but by the fact that they perceived suppliers were cheating and lying to them, according to Williams. “We have to show that we are an industry that the consumer can trust. When something is labeled as cod, haddock, or whatever, we have to make sure it is what it is,” Williams said.

To that end, new E.U. food labeling regulations would require country-of-origin labeling on meat and seafood. The public comment period for seafood labeling regulations drafted by the U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) closed at the end of January. While Seafish supports the guidelines, the industry does not see the need for seafood to be designated by the vessel on which it is caught, as proposed.

“Labeling by the vessel that caught the fish isn’t very useful information: you could have a flagged vessel anywhere in the world,” Williams said. “The most useful thing for the consumer is knowing where the fish is caught, such as the U.K.,” he added.

The U.K. government proposed country-of-origin labeling rules for seafood in 2011, shortly after a university investigation found mislabeled seafood in the country’s supermarkets and restaurants. “When you go into fish and chip shops, you can pick up the wrong piece of fish accidentally, but there have been documented cases of deliberate substitution,” Williams said.

The U.K. mislabeling incidents remind Williams of the recent Oceana investigation in the U.S., which found that nearly a third of seafood in grocery stores and restaurants were mislabeled. “I think we are pretty tight in the U.K., particular for retailers, and better than the Oceana report showed in the U.S.,” Williams said. Still, Williams says the U.K. seafood industry must do everything in its power to maintain and improve consumer trust in the supply chain.

Contributing Editor



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