LOCAL MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has welcomed Government moves designed to make it easier for food shoppers to buy British.
But Mr Liddell-Grainger said the supermarket sector needed to make more rapid progress toward adopting simpler and ‘more honest’ labelling protocols.
Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Secretary Steve Barclay has announced a consultation on proposals to make food labelling clearer, such as highlighting when imported products do not meet UK welfare standards, and to ensure food produced to the highest standards is consistently labelled.
He will also meet major retailers to look at ways online customers can be certain of the origins of what they buy, including adding a ‘Buy British’ button to supermarket websites.
The idea has been supported by 120 MPs and a 27,000-signature petition raised by the National Farmers’ Union, while last month Morrisons became the first chain to provide such a feature.
Mr Liddell-Grainger represents West Somerset but will be the Conservative candidate at this year’s General Election for a new constituency covering much of the Culm Valley and parishes adjoining Wellington.
He was one of the first MPs to support the ‘Buy British’ button campaign and said there was no reason at all why the rest of the sector should not follow suit.
Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “Wherever I go, I meet people who say they want to buy more British produce but they often find it very difficult to do so.
“In a situation where we are importing nearly half our food, singling out British products is not always easy, particularly when they are not clearly labelled or are displayed in confusing ways.
“Some are clearly flagged up and even promoted.
“But when shoppers do not have time to read every label on every pack it is clear that some imported products are getting through.
“Examples of this which have been flagged up include pork boldly labelled as being ‘produced to UK standards’ while the small print reveals those standards were being applied on a pig farm in Sweden.”
Mr Liddell-Grainger said such problems should not affect the growing number of online shoppers once a ‘Buy British’ button was available.
He said: “Aside from so many consumers wishing to make a conscious decision to buy home-grown produce and support British farming, the Government’s move could help protect UK farmers from unfair competition.
“Our farmers are immensely proud of their welfare standards and of the fact that they are supplying the best and safest food to the market.
“But all too often they find themselves unfairly undercut by products imported from countries where welfare and hygiene standards are lower, and, aside from receiving more generous state support, farmers do not have to carry the extra expense of implementing them.
“I am afraid the Government has been only too keen to sign up import deals for meat and other commodities when its priority should have been strengthening our food security by supporting our farmers and encouraging an increase in domestic production.
“I am glad the Minister has recognised the sense of a ‘Buy British’ button but this can only be the first step.
“Now we are outside Europe, nothing stops us promoting our own produce over other countries’ and I should like to see far more official support for the production and eating of more British food.”