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Julian Sturdy - Strong Voice for York Outer

Julian Sturdy

Member of Parliament for York Outer

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Food Labelling

May 16, 2014

This week the Consumer Rights Bill came to the floor of the House for its report stage, and within it an amendment had been tabled which stated that “all products containing Halal and Kosher meat shall be labelled as such at the point of sale by retail and food outlets.”

In principle I welcomed this amendment, as this is an issue which has concerned me for some time and I believe it is to everyone’s benefit to provide transparency, making it easier for consumers to make an informed choice.

Therefore in the House of Commons yesterday I decided to speak in the debate to show my support for the idea but also to outline why I felt I could not vote for the amendment:

“I will not detain the House for long. I want to talk to new clause 13. I was hoping that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) would not divide the House on it, but it has highlighted yet again the extremely important issue of food labelling and consumer choice, and the work that still has to be done.

I start with a simple principle and question. Should consumers be allowed to know where their food has come from, how it has been prepared and how it has been slaughtered? For me, the answer to that simple question is yes, so that consumers can make an informed choice. However, I accept that the issue is more complicated than that and more complex than this simple new clause. I am not being critical of my hon. Friend when I say that, and I completely understand why he has worded it as he has. However, although I have great sympathy with new clause 13, I cannot support it as it stands.

In essence, the stunning of livestock has been mandatory in the EU since 1979, although member states can grant exemptions for religious slaughter. Some people in this Chamber might want to follow the lead of Denmark and ban non-stunned slaughter altogether on animal welfare grounds, but I for one would certainly not want to go down that road. As my hon. Friend has said, the proposal is not about banning anything, nor should it be. I strongly believe that consumers should have the right to make an informed choice, and the new clause should serve as a warning shot across the bows of Government that the issue will not go away.

The Government are going to have to grasp the nettle at some point and for me that point needs to come sooner rather than later. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.”

In response to my speech the Minister, Jenny Willott, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, responded saying:

“On Halal meat, we want people to have the information that they need to make informed choices about the food that they buy. Many retailers or restaurants and fast food outlets already voluntarily provide information on whether meat is Halal or Kosher. As we have seen from the debate today, this is a complex and sensitive area. There is no single clear definition of Halal meat. The majority of Halal meat produced in this country comes from animals that are stunned before slaughter, whereas Kosher meat all comes from unstunned animals. That is just part of what consumers want to know, as we have heard in the debate today. We already have powers under the Food Safety Act 1990 to make domestic regulations to introduce a requirement to label with the method of slaughter. However, we do not consider at this stage that regulation is the best approach. Primarily, food businesses should provide consumers with the information that they want and need. If there is to be compulsory labelling, we believe that this would best be done at a European level. That would be best for consumers and also ensure that we do not put our food industry at a competitive disadvantage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said that there was widespread customer demand for labelling of the kind that has been suggested. An EU study is currently being undertaken on precisely that question, so we are waiting with interest the publication of the study so that we have full information on what consumers want. We will review all our options at that point.”

While I welcome the Ministers response, unfortunately I do not agree with her that this matter should be dealt with at the European level, because whilst not agreeing with their course of action, Denmark has at least shown it can be tackled at a national level. However I do welcome that the matter is now being discussed which I believe has been long overdue and I now wait to see if anything further develops following this intervention.