FSA study shows country of origin labelling is accurate

Country of origin tests conducted by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) did not find any cases of misleading origin claims.

An investigation in to the origin of foods claiming to be from the UK and Ireland has found that such claims on labels are accurate, says the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The FSA-led study look used screening tests coupled with investigations in to traceability documents to analyse the accuracy of 96 food samples which claimed to be from the UK, or from the Republic of Ireland (ROI).

The study did not identify any cases of food on sale with misleading country of origin claims, said the FSA.

“It’s vital that consumers are provided with a true picture as to where the food they buy comes from,” said Andrew Rhodes, Chief Operating Officer at the FSA. “If it says it’s produce from the UK then it should be.”

“We wanted, in this study, to check whether people were receiving accurate information on the origin of their food and the results are reassuring for consumers and businesses.”

Rhodes added that the FSA also used the study to gain experience of using the relatively new technology - known as stable isotope ratio analysis (SIRA) - as a tool to show the country of origin of foodstuffs.

“We found SIRA effective in raising questions about where a food comes from but we relied on traceability information to further investigate origin,” he noted. “Defra and the FSA are continuing to work with the research community and industry to improve our ability to test the origin of foods and we look to build on this useful piece of work in the months ahead.”

Accurate origins

The FSA study examined samples from beef, pork, lamb, apple juice, tomatoes and honey which  claimed to be from the UK or ROI. Samples were taken from mid-December 2013 to early January 2014 and were mostly taken from retail or wholesale outlets, although four samples of raw beef burgers were obtained from caterers.

Samples were taken from both top end food ranges and economy ranges.

While the samples were not fully representative of the market, the FSA said that within the limitations of a small study they provided a reasonable spread across retailers and across the four countries of the UK.

Of the 96 samples screened using SIRA, 78 were shown immediately to be consistent with the origin claimed and 18 were identified for follow-up investigation. Traceability and other evidence were requested for 17 of these samples. In all 17 cases the evidence supplied supported the country of origin claim, said the FSA.

It noted that SIRA ‘has been shown to have real potential’ – noting that for some foods it is already a realistic possibility for enforcement authorities to use SIRA screening, although for others some further development would be beneficial.

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