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UK Shoppers Find Inconsistent Food Origin Labels, Watchdog Reveals

A consumer watchdog investigation has exposed misleading origin labeling on food products in UK supermarkets, potentially deceiving shoppers eager to support domestic producers.

Which?, a leading consumer rights group, alleges that supermarkets are exploiting patriotic sentiment by inaccurately presenting imported food as British. Pork and beef products were found displaying Union Jacks and "Made in Britain" stamps, despite containing meat sourced from the European Union.

A survey of 2,011 shoppers commissioned by Which? revealed significant concerns about prevailing labeling practices. Only half (51%) of respondents described current origin information on groceries as helpful.

An overwhelming majority (64%) indicated a preference for products labelled "British".

"Shoppers want to know where their food comes from for multiple reasons, including supporting British suppliers and making more sustainable choices," commented Ele Clark, Retail Editor at Which?

"Supermarkets should particularly focus on labeling loose fruit and vegetables more clearly, but manufacturers and retailers should also consider providing origin information on more processed meat products so shoppers are armed with the information they need to make informed choices."

The watchdog's investigation uncovered numerous discrepancies. In Sainsbury's, loose vegetables such as cauliflower, red cabbage, courgettes, and onions lacked visible origin labelling at the shelf edge or on the produce itself.

This pattern was observed at other major supermarkets, including Asda (peppers, melons, mangoes) and Aldi (spring onions). Crucially, 68% of survey respondents considered it important to know the origin of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Current regulations mandate origin labeling for fresh produce, meat, fish, honey, and wine.

However, the rules are less stringent for processed or frozen foods. This loophole permits vague labels such as "UK and non-UK pork" (found on Lidl sausage rolls) or "EU and non-EU origin" (on Iceland gammon joints), offering little clarity for shoppers seeking to understand their food's provenance.

Further inconsistencies fueled consumer confusion. In one Aldi store, tomatoes from Morocco, parsley from Italy, and peppers from Spain sat beneath a banner declaring "Championing Great British Quality." Asda shoppers encountered cauliflowers with a Union Jack shelf label, despite the vegetables originating from Spain.

Which? intends to share its findings with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), advocating for reforms as part of DEFRA's ongoing consultation on fairer food labeling.

In response, major supermarkets underscored their commitment to clear labeling. However, the discrepancies highlighted by Which? suggest the need for both tighter regulation and greater industry transparency in food origin communication.


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