Milk & Meat - We need the truth behind what's hidden from our labels.

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I am calling for a review of meat and milk labelling to allow consumers to make an informed decision about the production methods, the milk pence per litre (ppl) paid to the farmer, and the slaughter methods of the products that they buy. 

 


My campaign is to call for labelling laws to be reviewed to meet a goal that is mutually agreed between the public and the government. As stated in a section of the governments response to the 2015 petition “End non-stun slaughter to promote animal welfare” the government said: “The Government believes that consumers should have the necessary information available to them to make an informed choice about their food”. It has been over a year since this response and after extensive research with no results, I can only conclude that to date nothing has changed. To honour that statement I am calling for the government to read and implement the following proposals:

 

Meat – 
For a product that is included in the diets of most of the 65 million residents in the UK I find it hard to believe that there is nothing misleading about the labelling of meatin comparison to the regulations for other food products. For example, as detailed on the gov.uk website under “Food standards: labelling, durability and composition - Fish: species names, commercial designations and labelling” it states that the labelling of fish has to show: “The commercial designation of the species (ie an agreed common name for the species of fish); the production method (ie whether caught at sea, caught in inland waters or farmed); the catch area (ie either the ocean area, or in the case of freshwater fish, the country in which it was caught or farmed); the scientific name & a declaration on whether the fish was previously frozen”. In my opinion this is an excellent way of detailing a number of key aspects about the production method, catch area and species of fish, all of which is in the interest of consumers. In contrast, this level of information about the product is not required for the sale of meat. Along with standard labelling laws, the current law as detailed on the gov.ukwebsite under ‘Food labelling and packaging: Food labelling - what you must show’ is as follows: “The label for beef, veal, fish and shellfish, honey, olive oil, wine, most fruit and vegetables and poultry imported from outside the EU must show the country of origin”. There is elaboration of the term ‘origin’ under the “Food labeling: giving food information to consumers” section of the gov.uk website stating that: “Country of origin: Any fresh, frozen or unprocessed meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry must show: the country in which the meat was reared, using the words ‘reared in …’; the country in which the meat was slaughtered, using the words ‘slaughtered in …’ & this meat must also have a batch code on the label to identify it.”


I recently went to purchase chicken drumsticks online from a large supermarket chain in the UK, and the website 'label' only stated “Manufacturers Address: Packed in Poland for *Name of supermarket* Foods Ltd” with no other details about the country where the poultry was sourced from. This is the case for almost every product I have looked at purchasing online, a largely used consumer platform. This is a similar case for many products where I have read the packaging/label in the supermarket, many not detailing all the information mentioned above. I have even tried searching EC identification codes in order to try and find more information and some codes detailed on products don’t even appear to exist and are very difficult to understand. As a consumer I ask myself how am I supposed to make an informed choice with this information, particularly in light of the vote for Brexit, which has left many unanswered questions as to how comparable our welfare laws will be to that of EU members in the future.


 As detailed in The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, Regulation 5, the “main characteristics of the product” include both ‘the method and date of manufacture of the product’ & ‘geographical or commercial origin of the product’. It is my understanding that the method of manufacture of a meat product and its origin would detail how it was reared, and where it came from, yet none of this information is available on the majority of meat labels even though it is clearly stated on the gov.uk website that some of this information should be available. On one hand government is stating that it supports halal slaughter because of religious beliefs, which is not written in law, yet in another it is allowing supermarkets to ignore the guidelines it has set out within the law by not ensuring that there is clear labelling on meat products.


The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 also states that a misleading action is if the labelling “causes or is likely to cause the average consumer to take a transactional decision he would not have taken otherwise”. This is most certainly the case for myself and many whom I have discussed this topic with. Even after carrying out thorough research into various accreditations that are put onto meat packaging, many only match the current laws in the UK when it comes to animal welfare and few describe the method of slaughter. Some even give the impression of the meat being raised in the UK, however after research I have found that this is not the case.


I genuinely feel that if consumers were to know the truth behind animal production and slaughter it would increase sales of UK produced products and boost farms that are forward thinking about the environment and animal welfare. This freedom of information could also renew the publics interest in smaller farms which are increasingly becoming unprofitable due to large scale ‘factory’ farms, particularly within the dairy industry. Which, in turn, also supplies the meat industry.

 

It is also worth noting that it is well documented that stress can affect the quality of meat. As detailed in T. Grandin’s study of The Effect of Stress on Livestock and MeatQuality Prior to and During Slaughter it has been found that long-term pre-slaughter stress can cause meat with a higher pH, darker colour, and that is drier. It also showed that short-term acute stress produced lactic acid from the breakdown of glycogen which results in meat which has a lower pH, lighter colour, reduced water binding capacity, and that is possibly tougher. Both of these stress related factors can be found in common practice production and slaughter methods. In addition to the effects of stress on meat, there is also growing evidence that an animal’s diet has a direct impact on the quality of the end product.


I am therefore calling for the government to have a review of meat labelling to include the following:

 

Details of the production method, relevant to the type of animal, for example: ‘Lamb born indoors in the winter and kept on grass in the summer’. I understand that there are various factors that can affect the way that animals are reared i.e. TB lockdowns, bad weather etc... therefore I am only calling for a summary of what the farms usual practice is.
A picture of the environment where the animal has spent 60% of its life with the animals at full stocking density. If a picture cannot be provided on the label then the stocking density should be written, detailing the number of animals per square metre, or, where required, more relevant terminology for larger animals such as cattle i.e. per hectare.
Details about if the animal was stunned before slaughter and what method was used. This information should include if the animal was electrically stunned, CO2/gas stunned, stunned by penetrating captive bolt or by other methods such as halal. 

 

Milk – 
As shown in the UK Dairy Industry Statistics 2016 “farm-gate prices had been in decline, from around 25 pence per litre (ppl) in 1997 to 18 ppl in November 2007. There was a sharp upturn in prices in late 2007 and a sustained rise from 2010 onwards. Prices peaked in November 2013, and have fallen by 30% in the two years to November 2015”.  The public heard the plight of the dairy farmer loud and clear and made a petition called “Introduce minimum prices that milk buyers purchase their milk for from Farmers”. In response to the petition DEFRA said: “Britain’s dairy industry is our biggest farming sector and recent farm gate milk price cuts have been a severe blow to the industry. However, we are part of a single market across Europe and as such we cannot and should not dictate what a fair price is for farmers and consumers”. I agree with this as manipulation of the markets such as milk lakes and butter mountains is frowned upon. However, it is my opinion that the public’s interest in how much the farmers are paid was not addressed.

Each year 14.6 billion* litres of milk is produced from dairy cattle in the UK yet there is no clear definition of ‘free range’, only ‘conventional’ and ‘organic’ with a big price leap from one to the other (*2014 figures). Along with the ppl paid to farmers, various production methods are key selling points to consumers and it is my opinion that to improve the dairy industry our nation should be informed of the standards that our farms meet and exceed. Therefore, for consumers to make an informed choice on their milk purchases, I am calling for milk labelling to include:

 Number of days the cattle have grazed outside per year. Either the term ‘Zero grazing system’ or a figure relevant to the days per annum the cattle are outside grazing. Where milk is collected from multiple farms and combined, a percentage should be shown of which systems go into the product, for example: ‘60% of our producers graze their cattle for 180 days per annum and 40% of our producers are on a zero grazing system’.
Pence per litre paid to the farmer that produced the milk.
If these details cannot be written on the bottle, I propose that there is a QR code instead which mobile phones can read to allow the user to access this information.

 

If the picture can be changed on a cigarette packet, why not change labelling for the good of those who cannot speak? 



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