There have been fresh calls for stricter food labelling laws, especially for those products that include meat and that feature misleading images of happy animals kept in perfect conditions. The group, Compassion in World Farming, has highlighted Dairylea and Bernard Matthews as being two of the biggest manufacturers that are guilty of the practice.
They also pointed to the fact that 90% of turkeys reared in the UK are reared indoors with no access to fields and blue skies. Experts have said that more than 70% of animals reared in the UK for food are factory farmed.
The government has previously slated rules that would make it a legal requirement to identify whether an animal was stunned or not before slaughter, but there is still a lot of confusion over terms such as “natural” that are used on labels, and there are no specific laws that govern the types of images that can be used on branding and packaging. Campaigners say that this allows manufacturers to misguide buyers.
Compassion In World Farming
Compassion in World Farming is an animal rights welfare charity, established in 1967 by a British farmer. Their remit is to campaign against animal cruelty and the mistreatment of farm animals. As well as political lobbying, they regularly undertake undercover investigations, visiting farms and food sites to report on their findings. They also work directly with companies to help establish ethical and compassionate farming practices and policies.
On 6th August, they launched a petition calling on the government to introduce compulsory regulations for food labels. They want labels to incorporate details of how animals were kept and reared, and they have taken aim at the images that some manufacturers use on their labels. They have also joined the growing list of groups and individuals that are demanding greater clarity for misleading terms, such as “farm fresh” and “natural” that are used on labels.
Bernard Matthews And Dairylea
Two of the biggest producers to have been highlighted for misleading labelling practices are Dairylea and Bernard Matthews.
Dairylea triangles, the group said, depict happy cows on their label but there is no indication as to the type of conditions that the cows were actually kept in. They argue that with 70% of the country’s cattle are factory reared and will never graze on fresh grass or see the outdoors.
Bernard Matthews, which produces Turkey based products, has also come under fire. The group said that the manufacturer displays images of outdoor farming with tractors and gates to a field, but recent figures suggest that as many as 9 out of 10 turkeys are intensively reared so endure similar conditions to battery hens.
There are very few current regulations that determine exactly what can and cannot be used as branding images. This means that companies like Dairylea and Bernard Matthews are free to use images that suggest their animals were reared sensitively, even if this isn’t necessarily the case. It is law that labels must include information regarding allergens, and nutritional information must also be included. It is also illegal to directly mislead buyers, so information that is included must be accurate and reliable.
Compassion in World Farming claims that these regulations do not go far enough. They have set up a petition that calls for the government to introduce such laws. They want information included on the label that highlights the conditions that animals were kept in. They also want to prevent the use of unreliable images, except in those cases where it is shown that the animals were treated ethically and given good conditions to live in. And, finally, they want clarification on potentially misleading terms like “farm fresh”.
Stunned Or Not
UK manufacturers currently fall under EU laws regarding food labels. However, the government has also introduced a consultation on post-Brexit food label laws. They want manufacturers to include details of whether animals were stunned before being slaughtered or not. Under current legislation, this isn’t necessary, but the government is pushing for all animals to be slaughtered humanely, except where this is directly prohibited by religious beliefs and practices. The new regulations are currently under consultation.
There has also been an increase in calls for the EU to tighten up its laws on the use of misleading terms and descriptions on food labels. In this case, campaigners want the EU to give a clear definition of terms like “natural”, a term that is often used to describe food even if it only includes a single natural ingredient. The European Consumer Organisation, BEUC, had similar complaints to those of Compassion in World Farming. They took aim at the use of misleading images, although their complaint was that manufacturers have included images of ingredients that are barely found inside the ingredients.
Despite these calls from the BEUC, EU lawmakers have said that adequate food labelling laws already exist and that member states should take more action against those manufacturers that are found guilty of flouting the current laws.
Images And Branding
Including images on food labels is important and can be a major component in a branding campaign, but manufacturers should be careful not to mislead customers. Check images and ensure that you meet all the requirements that food manufacturers must meet. It seems likely that changes are coming, at least in the UK, and businesses will need to change their food labelling practices to fall in line with regulatory changes. Include nutritional information and other essential data and avoid the use of ambiguous or inaccurate terms on the label and in the name of foods.
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