On 30 January 2008, the European Parliament adopted a proposal to make food labelling “clearer and more relevant to the needs of EU Consumers”, apparently, “following extensive consultation with consumer organisations, industry and other stake holders.”
The proposals centred about uniformity of labels to help us identify information on nutrition, country of origin and allergens. Excellent news, we say, but there is a glaring omission. What about labelling concerning whether products are suitable for Vegetarians or Halaal or Kosher? It appears the “extensive consultation” was not so extensive after all.
Britain is at the forefront of European advancement in these areas. When we go to the supermarket we find various products with the distinctive sign for Vegetarian and to a lesser extent Kosher and Halaal. This need for UK consumers was obviously not considered relevant when analysing the needs of EU Consumers and it appears our battalion of 78 MEPs did very little to fight our corner.
In fact, there are many millions of us in the UK, who are concerned about this issue. Vegetarianism is a rapidly growing lifestyle and it is the mainstay for much of the British Hindu population. Jewish and Muslim communities in the UK also use the Vegetarian symbol to assist them in making purchase decisions. There are also people and organisations needing to prepare compliant food for their guests.
Yet my contact with the Vegetarian Society in Britain, the main vegetarian organisation consulted by our own Food Standards Agency, revealed that they were not consulted by our MEPs on Europe’s food labelling initiative.
When I travel to France, Spain and Italy I find that they do not even understand the term vegetarian let alone trying to confuse them with the terms Halaal and Kosher. I have seen pizza retailers using the same hand to apply ham to a pizza as cheese to a Vegetarian pizza. I recently tried to purchase ice cream for my children but alas the vendor was unable to confirm if the product was suitable for vegetarians. I have also seen products labelled as Vegetarian when they were not.
The food industry would welcome a coherent guidance on such labelling because they would be able to attract customers, who are otherwise not purchasing. Indeed, there are many products which are Vegetarian, Halaal and Kosher but are not so labelled because of the lack of guidance and information.
I lay the blame fairly and squarely at the feet of British MEPs. Britain is far advanced to the rest of Europe in this issue and should be best placed to lead such an initiative. However, because our politicians fail to consult and represent us, the needs of tens of millions of European citizens have been neglected.
What is worse is that such neglect acts as an obstacle to communtiy integration and inclusion. What brings us more together than food?
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION RESULTS ANNOUNCEMENT ON 7 JUNE 2009