News-Don't let them tell porkies

Remember the Bernard Matthews scandal of 2007 and how imported turkey meat may have brought HN51 into the UK? And the horsemeat burgers of 2013 – which was more likely to give you the trots etc? Well it seems Farming Minister George Eustice has beaten his former DEFRA stablemate Owen Paterson to the post in the debate on food labelling.

Baking a Pie in the UK using processed meat ingredients from several countries will still qualify as ‘Made in Britain’.

Despite Owen’s pledge to impose mandatory ‘country of origin’ labelling it now looks likely that new EU rules in 2015 will be significantly watered-down. The UK initially proposed all meat foodstuffs – unprocessed and processed – should be labelled with their country of origin. But now, after sustained lobbying of DEFRA by food processors it seems likely processed food will be exempted from the new regulations. Processors will not be obliged to say where their meat ingredients originate from, which is just as well as it could be from a dozen or so countries. Baking a Pie in the UK using processed meat ingredients from several countries will still qualify as ‘Made in Britain’ which of course reads much better to consumers than ‘Assembled in Britain’. After a series of meetings with the British Meat Processors Association Mr Eustice has informed the EU that: ‘National labelling….would place an unnecessary financial burden on business’.

Mr Eustice’s change of heart has been hailed as a victory by dodgy EU abattoirs and processors who are heaving a sigh of relief. Not so the advisors to David Cameron who stated in 2007: ‘Food can be imported to Britain, processed here, and subsequently labelled in a way that suggests it’s genuinely British. That is completely wrong.’ He even launched an ‘Honest Food Campaign’ pledging compulsory labelling for food origins. But that was when he was in opposition and 3 years away from leading a coalition government.

Meurig Raymond, the president of the National Farmers Union said: ‘I find this very strange behaviour from our ministers’. Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, accused DEFRA of allowing business to dictate policy, saying: ‘Owen Paterson and his ministers are saying all the right things, but there is a gap between the rhetoric and what gets done. So who is pulling the strings?’

Who knows – but of course it will still be an offence to inaccurately describe a product e.g. a ‘beef and onion’ pie which actually contains horsemeat. But provided the contents are hygienically-processed and therefore wholesome to eat such mislabelling is only a descriptive failure so unlikely to result in anything more than a slap on the wrist for the producer.

Processed foods comprise a significant part of the estimated 3.4 million tonnes of food wasted every year in the UK food processing, packaging and distribution industries before it even reaches retailers and restaurants.

After it does an additional 400,000 tonnes are discarded by UK retailers whilst still edible.

The ‘All Party Parliamentary inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty’ chaired by Frank Field MP reported as much last month and showed how many of those 800 million would-be meals are then converted into ‘Biogas’. Fermenting edible food waste into biofuel and hence electricity is encouraged by £30 million of subsidy from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The Committee then illustrated how non-subsidised organisations such as ‘FareShare’ – distributors of surplus food to Foodbanks – have to charge £100/tonne to collect it from supermarkets, so are losing-out to biogas producers.

Frank called the system ‘Madness on stilts’ and the Committee called for changes to the system of subsidies. That in turn highlighted the incentives offered by HM Government to meet the ‘15% electricity from renewables’ target for 2020. Food waste has now become part of the wider argument for and against subsidising otherwise-uneconomical ‘renewable’ generation such as windfarms.

This shameful waste has been known for a long time but Frank hopes to ramp up the pressure on processors, wholesalers and retailers to produce less waste and then offer what’s left to worthy causes. OK, some retailers do donate to FareShare but industry-wide this represents less than 2% of waste – a token gesture. Tesco have confirmed 68% of it’s bagged salads and 48% of it’s bakery goods are discarded.

He lived solely off the contents of supermarket and restaurant skips during a 3-month, 1,900 mile odyssey.

Meanwhile 25-year old, Bordeaux-born cyclist Baptiste Dubanchet has perfected his skip-diving skills whilst scavenging his way across Europe. To highlight the scandal of food waste he lived solely off the contents of supermarket and restaurant skips during a 3-month, 1,900 mile odyssey pedalling through France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Poland. He looks none the worse for it and you can follow his blog: ‘La Faim du Monde’ at www.lafaimdumonde2014.com Monsieur Dubanchet is supported by the likes of Mary McGrath from British charity, FoodCyclewww.foodcycle.org.uk She points out that 4 million of the UK’s 62 million residents now live in ‘food poverty’ which she says: ‘…shouldn’t co-exist in the same community as food waste’.

Good point Mary. It would be interesting to learn in which country Baptiste would most likely starve to death. Probably Germany, because according to EU statistics authority Eurostat Deutchsland is the EU’s top recycler at 65% whilst Britain achieves 43.9% and France recycles just 39%. Baptiste would be far better off in Romania which recycles just 1% of it’s waste. But hang on – isn’t that where all the horsemeat came from?

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