A horse. Photo: Flickr/Kim Hill
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Three years after the horsemeat scandal, are we any closer to knowing what we're eating?

This week, MEPs will vote on proposals for the mandatory country of origin labelling of meat in processed foods – a vital measure for food safety and consumer choice.

Mexican beef? French rabbit? Spanish pork?... three years’ on from the horsemeat scandal, consumers may now be more certain what it is they are eating, but they still don’t know where the meat in processed food is from.

Country of origin labelling is now mandatory for fresh beef, and will be for fresh pork, lamb, goat and poultry from April this year, yet this is not the case for meat in processed food. And that is why this week in the European Parliament, Labours MEPs will be voting for the same standards for meat in burgers, ready meals and sandwiches.

This is long overdue. We have been asking for this since 2010, when I helped negotiate new EU laws on food labelling. I managed to get the European Parliament’s support for the idea, but European governments - including our own - would only agree to labelling fresh meat.

When the horsemeat scandal broke in 2012, the UK government changed its mind and promised to introduce labelling for meat in processed food, only to backtrack and block the idea in the European Council last summer. So Tory MEPs may be planning to vote in favour of the resolution this week, but this might never have been necessary if they’d supported our position right from the start.

Labour MEPs, on the other hand, have consistently argued for clear, honest labelling for all food. From easy-to-understand nutritional information to labelling method of slaughter or whether a product contains unsustainable palm oil, we believe consumers have a right to know what’s in their food and where it’s come from.

As for UKIP, despite including country of origin labelling alongside the litany of barmy policies in their 100-point election pledge, Nigel Farage’s MEPs are unlikely to back the resolution. They may want to be taken seriously, but when given the opportunity to take constructive action, as always, UKIP would rather sit back and rant.

90 per cent of consumers want to know the country of origin of meat in processed food. This would allow environmentally or animal welfare conscious consumers to make more informed decisions about where the meat in their food has come from and how far it’s travelled.

And it’s not just consumers, farmers’ organisations also support country of origin labelling. However, the food industry has been lobbying heavily against the idea, despite the fact this could actually be good for them by helping restore trust in the industry, which was badly damaged by the horsemeat scandal.

The European Commission claims labelling the country of origin of meat in processed food would increase costs significantly but their report was based on industry self-reporting. A French consumer study found that labelling the beef in a frozen lasagne would cost less than 1p, and for a bolognese sauce it would be even less.

People should never be misled, if a sausage roll is labelled as a British product, that should mean it is made with British pork. I sincerely hope MEPs won’t cave into to industry lobbying and will support the resolution on Wednesday. Consumers increasingly demand more information about their food and Labour MEPs believe you have a right to know where your meat comes from.

Glenis Willmott MEP is Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament

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The biggest divide in politics is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians

My week, including a Lib Dem membership rise, The Avalanches, and why I'm putting pressure on Theresa May over child refugees.

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.

 

Premature obituaries

Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – but lately the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.

 

What I did on my holidays

Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating ­after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.

 

Preparing for the next fight

The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.

 

Sitting Priti

David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the ­Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. To join the party, visit: libdems.org.uk/join

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue