Defra responds to wholemeal, wholegrain, sourdough and artisan bread labelling proposals.
Replying to the 7 February email sent to Defra’s Food Compositional Standards Team by the Real Bread Campaign coordinator, on 21 March 2023 a Policy Advisor wrote:
“Apologies for not getting back to you sooner. Thank you for clarifying your positions in your previous email. The scope of the public consultation held at the end of last year was specifically focused on potential amendments to the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998. The proposals in the consultation addressed areas we determined were the most pressing aspects. It is right that this centred around mandatory fortification, including the addition of folic acid to flour which is considered a key public health measure and it’s important we deliver this in the most sensible and efficient manner. There are several aspects to mandatory fortification which need to be factored in to ensure we do so.
We did consider initially that proposals relating to sourdough could fit within the scope of this work but after consideration from officials in the Food Compositional Standards and Labelling Framework from all four UK administrations determined non-legislative measures would be more suitable to address issues raised. As you may be aware the Government will only intervene through a legislative approach where it considers this to be absolutely necessary and / or where there has been market failure. Non-legislative solutions may be more applicable for the other aspects which have been raised in your email including 50:50.
To note we did not commit to holding a public consultation on all proposals which stakeholders brought forward from the engagement with the technical working group. However, this is not to say that we have dismissed arguments put forward by [the Real Bread Campaign] during engagement. As mentioned, these proposals have cross-cutting implications which are covered in horizontal rules (applying more widely to foods in general) covering labelling and additives. We will endeavour to further explore points which have been raised with relevant officials to establish suitable courses of action.
The reality is that at this time we have a very large agenda of work which means giving an accurate timescale for this at the moment is very difficult. Government remains committed to optimising the information available to consumers, and I am sure you will understand this covers an expansive range of areas.
We are very happy to engage with you on the issues you are concerned with to try and help find solutions but given the current programme of legislative work going through Defra and Parliament itself we cannot commit to any additional legislative amendments at this time.”
[Links to relevant information inserted by the Real Bread Campaign]
Real Bread Campaign coordinator Chris Young replied:
“Thank you for taking the time to give this level of detail. After nearly a decade and a half of the Real Bread Campaign calling for updated and improved protection for shoppers and small business owners, you won’t be surprised that we’re greatly disappointed that these important issues have been dismissed or yet again shuffled to the bottom of the pile.
For now, will you at least advise what is being done (or will be done and when) to resolve the issue of half-and-half loaf marketing, please? There are at least four, widely available products made from 50% white flour that are being marketed using the word wholemeal. Clarity would help not only bakers and buyers but also the trading standards departments that are currently investigating these cases.”
Following a meeting with Defra, on 21 January 2016 a member of Defra’s Food Information and Labelling team wrote: “I said I’d send you what guidance we referred to on ‘artisan’ products. I’ve looked through this guidance and it doesn’t actually list ‘artisan’ but it does refer to terms such as ‘hand-made’, ‘Farmhouse’, ‘home-made’ etc.
One would look at a description such as ‘artisan’ in the light of a dictionary definition and look to determine what the average reasonably well-informed consumer would take from the word. We have recently been looking at the ROI guidance you referred to at our meeting and will keep in mind whether we should produce something similar.”
We followed this up in January 2023. On 22 March 2023, the same member of Defra’s Food Information and Labelling team wrote: “Apologies for not replying sooner. No there has not been any development of this work in the intervening time as other competing priorities have taken precedence. This is likely to be the case at least for the near term. If we are able to pick up this work we will ensure we engage stakeholders at the first opportunity.”
4 April 2023: Replying to our email of 22 March, a policy advisor in Defra’s Food Compositional Standards Team wrote: "I’m sorry that your disappointed, we have not dismissed arguments out of hand and we will look to explore suitable courses of action for areas which fall outside the scope of the Bread and Flour Regulations when there is an opportunity to do so. For the time being other competing prioritise are taking precedence. In terms of points raised around 50/50 products we will be engaging further with trading standards. It should be noted that we can’t provide authoritative statements of law as our view may differ from trading standards or the courts."
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Published 22 Mar 2023
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