LONDON – Food processors and supermarkets should voluntarily do more to improve country-of-origin labeling (C.O.O.L.) on food products, such as meat and dairy, said Jim Paice, Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (D.E.F.R.A.).

Mr. Paice said during a recent visit to Melton Mowbray, home of one of Britain’s most iconic protected foods -- the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, he wanted to see improved country-of-origin labeling, particularly for meat and dairy products, where confusion can most easily occur.

“It is a priority for the government to ensure that food labeling is as clear as it could be,” Mr. Paice said. “I’m therefore calling on the industry to work with us to ensure that people can be confident about the origin of the products they buy.

Mr. Paice added he had written to food industry leaders to emphasize his office wants clarity and transparency for the consumers, who want to make a choice based on the origin of their food – particularly if they believe they’re buying British.

“Some good work is already happening – for example, the voluntary agreement agreed recently by the pig meat industry,” he continued.

Food products such as Sainsbury’s Steak and Cornish Ale Pasty and Asda Chicken Puff Pastry Pie have also been singled out as products that clearly show the meat is British and that the product is made in Britain.

“Where our food comes from is increasingly important to us,” Mr. Paice said. “I’m here in Melton Mowbray today to see how their pork pie and Stilton cheese industries have used their protected status to increase sales and consumer interest in their product, and the area it comes from.”

The origin labeling of meat, meat products such as pies and ready-meals and dairy products tend to be the most confusing for consumers to understand, Mr. Paice iterated. “Improving labeling for consumers to make it clear where their food comes from is a key objective in developing a voluntary agreement with the industry,” he added.

A good practice code already exists within the pig meat industry with many major companies committed to minimum standards on origin labeling, product definitions (e.g., free-range) and breed names on labels, Mr. Paice said.

The E.U. is considering new rules on origin labeling. Although D.E.F.R.A. would prefer industry to respond voluntarily to consumer demands for better origin labeling, it will also “be pressing for the option of compulsion to be kept open,” he concluded.