BBC Radio 4 Farming Today Interview with Paul Williams

Posted by Paul Williams, Chief Executive on 27 February 2013

Interviewer/ee details: Anna Hill, Paul Williams, Jo Leinen

Anna Hill: The government wants to change the way that fish products are labelled. DEFRA has just closed a consultation paper on how to give the consumer more information about where and how the fish they are buying has been caught. Sea Fish is a pan-industry body which deals with all aspects of the fishing and sea food industry. Its Chief Executive Paul Williams told me why the proposals could be useful for both consumer and the industry alike.

Paul Williams: Interestingly, I mean, there has been regs introduced fairly recently, I think, just last year on fish, so now you have to say common name, Latin name, whether it has been defrosted and which sea area it's come from, if it's fished or which country its come from, or is it farmed? The recent introduction of the scientific name might not be that useful for consumers, but actually I think it has been a really useful initiative and that it makes much more difficult to substitute.

Anna Hill: However, obviously there must have been some concerns that some sorts of fish were being sold as others, otherwise there wouldn't be the need to look at this again.

Paul Williams: One of the issues with sea food is you have got to recognise this, that there are well over 200 varieties, different species of sea food sold in the UK which would make a complete testing program, completely impractical. There have been issues historically, so things happened been picked up in the past. I think it's largely been the level of the odd fish and chip shop substituting the cheaper species or may be even in some cases it has been unintentional substitution. So you go into a fish and chip shop and you think you are getting cod and the guy picks up a haddock.

Anna Hill: The consultation on labelling excludes pubs, restaurants and fish and chip shops, doesn't it? Why is that?

Paul Williams: I think it was seen as being a difficult area to bring in a lot of a food service areas and I think, one of the…

Anna Hill: But surely isn't that one of the areas where people are least able to know exactly what they are eating?

Paul Williams: I was just going to say, I think, the thing there is always to exercise a bit of personal caution, and look at what is actually being offered to you. So, white fish is very often just sold in some places as fish and chips. If you buy fish and chips, you can be served any white fish. If it's actually sold as cod and chips or haddock and chips then that is what you should be getting. And it's always worth asking what actually is the species in the meal that you are getting. I think the level of substitution is low; it's not unknown in sea food. But I think it's still at a very low level and I do think that in the U.K. we have actually got a pretty good record in the industry monitoring, and trying to make sure that there is integrity in labelling in the industry.

Anna Hill: Paul Williams from Sea Fish. Well, sticking with labelling. European Agriculture Ministers met in Brussels yesterday to discuss how to speed up new rules about country of origin labelling. The EU has already adopted a law to make it compulsory for all manufacturers to include the origin of fresh meet on their labels. It was passed at the end of 2011, but was expected to take five years to come into force. However, ministers are arguing that this report should be brought forward in the wake of the horsemeat scandal. I asked German MEP and Labelling Committee Chairperson Jo Leinen if bringing forward implementation of these regulations was realistic?

Jo Leinen: Exactly, it is not easy, but we have to choose what we want, do we want the truth in the food chain, do we want the consumer to be informed what he likes, what he doesn't like or do we, let's say, protect the industry and I think consumer protection, and in a way has a protection, has a priority.

Anna Hill: Is it possible then to do this more quickly than within five years then.

Jo Leinen: I think that this shaked the Ministers and it is the council who refused two years ago a better labelling, the parliament was asking for it, but in some countries like in mine, in Germany, the responsible ministry was against now they think differently, they see the gap and they are ready to renegotiate the labelling at the directive of the European Union.

Anna Hill: So, when do you think we might see this now?

Jo Leinen: I would say they'll come up with a proposal to revise the labelling directive and we will see still in 2013 that there is a new process and a new dynamic. We any way have to finish that legislation by March April next year because then this term of the parliament finishes and they would have a break for more than three quarter of a year and that would be too long. The consumer demands, and expects us, to be quick now.

Anna Hill: In Germany which is your home turf, one politician suggested that the burgers containing horsemeat should not be thrown away, but should be given to the poor. What is your view on that?

Jo Leinen: If you say give it to the poor, or give it to the third world countries, immediately you get the reaction, are they second class citizen, should they really get what we don't want and I fear that this proposal will be for the dustbin.

Anna Hill: But would you have liked to have seen that food not wasted.

Jo Leinen: Of course, we waste one third of our food and this is unacceptable, it's a known problem that lot of biomass, with a lot of energy is produced in the value chain and then you throw it away and for many reasons, for resources deficiency, for climate protection, we will not afford in the future to be so wasteful and it makes me some pain that millions of food portions are now probably thrown away, but I think that's the price we pay for this scandal and I don't see yet that you could really sell it openly to the poorer part of the population or export it to Africa. I don't see that this is then politically correct.

Anna Hill: MEP Jo Leinen speaking from Brussels and that's all for today I am Anna Hill the producer with Ruth Sanderson.

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