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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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage