A horse. Photo: Flickr/Kim Hill
Show Hide image

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

Getty
Show Hide image

Leave campaigners are doing down Britain's influence in Europe

As the third biggest country, Britain has huge clout in the EU.

Last week the Leave campaign's Priti Patel took to the airwaves to bang on about the perils of EU regulation, claiming it is doing untold damage to small businesses in the UK. Let's put aside for one minute the fact that eight in ten small firms actually want to stay in the EU because of the huge benefits it brings in terms of trade and investment. Or the fact that the EU has cut red tape by around a quarter in recent years and is committed to doing more. Because the really startling thing Patel said was that these rules come to us "without the British government having a say." That might be forgivable coming from an obscure backbencher or UKIP activist. But as a government minister, Priti Patel knows full well that the UK has a major influence over all EU legislation. Indeed, she sits round the table when EU laws are being agreed.

Don't take it from me, take it from Patel herself. Last August, in an official letter to the House of Lords on upcoming EU employment legislation, the minister boasted she had "worked closely with MEPs to influence the proposal and successfully protected and advanced our interests." And just a few months ago in February she told MPs that the government is engaging in EU negotiations "to ensure that the proposals reflect UK priorities." So either she's been duping the Parliament by exaggerating how much influence she has in Brussels. Or, as is perhaps more likely, she's trying to pull the wool over the British people's eyes and perpetuate a favourite myth of the eurosceptics: that the UK has no say over EU rules.

As the third biggest country, Britain has huge clout in Europe. We have the most votes in the EU Council alongside France, Germany and Italy, where we are on the winning side 87 per cent of the time. The UK also has a tenth of all MEPs and the chairs of three influential European Parliament committees (although admittedly UKIP and Tory sceptics do their best to turn their belief the UK has no influence in Europe into a self-fulfilling prophecy). UKIP MEPs aside, the Brits are widely respected by European counterparts for their common sense and expertise in areas like diplomacy, finance and defence. And to the horror of the French, it is English that has become the accepted lingua franca in the corridors of power in Brussels.

So it's no surprise that the UK has been the driving force behind some of the biggest developments in Europe in recent decades, including the creation of the single market and the enlargement of the EU to Eastern Europe. The UK has also led the way on scrapping mobile roaming charges from next year, and is now setting the agenda on EU proposals that will make it easier to trade online and to access online streaming services like BBC iPlayer or Netflix when travelling abroad. The irony is that the Europe of today which Eurosceptics love to hate is very much a British creation.

The Leave campaign like to deride anyone who warns of the risks of leaving the EU as "talking down Britain." But by denying the obvious, that the UK has a major role in shaping EU decisions, they are the ones guilty of doing our country down. It's time we stood up to their defeatist narrative and made the case for Britain's role in Europe. I am a proud patriot who wants the best for my country, and that is why like many I will be passionately making the case to remain in the EU. Now is not the time to leave, it's time to lead.