VEGA News Item

What is Fresh, Pure, Natural Food? - 22/01/2008
VEGA comments on an FSA consultation on food labelling...

Re: Revision of Food Standards Agency Guidance “Criteria For The Use Of The Terms Fresh, Pure, Natural Etc in Food Labelling”

The FSA’s consultations on the argot of food retailers, caterers, and restauranters is commendable, but should be accompanied by vigorously with education of consumers, from school onwards, on the elements of shrewd trading and the full implication of caveat emptor. In a bargaining situation we have to allow for the questionable differences and circumstances of buyer and seller and the difficulties that arise in interpreting common commercial practices with scientific and legal precision.

These difficulties are sharpened within the EU by nuances of language and variations in custom and background; even with English-speaking regions in international commerce interpretations and revisions differ. We advocate much increased resort to IT for availability of detailed SOPs (standard operating procedures), ingredients list, scores or other indicators on levels of certified hygiene and welfare (of all animals involved in production and output), as well as current matters of environmental interest and husbandry. This would require more of the shopper and encourage an acute attitude to the importance of commodities and their distribution. Such information could be available in store and from the home computer. Canny consumership makes for higher standards and insights, and thriftier citizenship. We have been advocating such practices for some years and have been practicing it in the context of our recipes in the Portfolio of eating plans that we publish week by week on our website, so far with a display of information in the style of FSA nutritional labelling and profiling.

The shopper should thus be forearmed with information that would not unduly complicate the final decision of purchase on the basis of price, presentation, and purpose.

The word natural is still applied to animal-derived dairy products. Our website illustrates the Chillingham herd of natural bovine ruminants for whom the milk supply which is not forced from animal freaks bread through artificial insemination, is reserved (as in suckler-reared beef production) for the cow’s natural suckling in a natural bonding of 6 to 8 months, rather than by an abrupt and distressing weaning after a day or 2 to release the udder for appreciation of human milksops, even past their second childhood. The process and the consequences for the veal calves are used by Shakespeare as an example of treachery and certainly not of any awe of nature by the human species.

The concept of tradition gives pause for thought, even within Europe. Consumption of horse meat is traditional in many countries, and other equine products are used in food processing. Even now that niche markets are developing for exotic meats in the UK and reservations prompted by Watership Down have lost some of their effect it would be a foolhardy butcher who boastfully flogged a dead horse as part of Britain’s glorious heritage and tradition. It may have become a tradition (but probably waning) for Johnny Foreigner, but not for nice people in the British shires nor in Jewish traditional communities.

We review many descriptions for which we think the FSA could offer a glossary for the general public. Examples would be:

  • Ready, eg in ready meals and oven-ready birds

  • Free, eg free from GM, nuts etc, free range (applied to poultry and dairy production), meat-free, dairy-free, cruelty-free…

  • Flavorings, processing aids and appropriate labeling

  • GM, hybridized, and cloned products and appropriate labeling

  • Indian, Greek, Italian etc. What traditions mark such cuisines (among which there are further divisions, eg Punjabi, tandoori, Madras…); and with tea and coffee issues such as Indian, Ceylon, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Darjeeling black teas and coffees from Kenya or South America.

  • Halal, kosher (and glatt kosher) meat and other foods and drinks with such descriptions are becoming more widely on sale

  • Superfood

  • Fruit and veg is a comprehensive and much-used description. Where do nuts / seeds / grains come in it? And are root vegetables in one category (eg potatoes, carrots, beets, cassava, yams, taro…?). Is there a need for more “healthy” categories beyond fruit and veg?


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