‘Local Food’ Labels Often Incorrect in England & Wales

are these local plums really local?A local government watchdog group in the UK has found that approximately 1/5 of products labeled as ‘local’ in England and Wales are misleading consumers and aren’t actually locally produced.

Some of the foods identified as not being ‘local’ included “Welsh lamb,” which actually came from New Zealand, “Somerset butter” which was from Scotland, not Somerset, “Devon ham” from Denmark, and “West Country fish fillets” that were filleted in China (although, caught in West Country). The local government regulation (LGR) watchdog group found similar issues with “local” ice-cream and “Yorkshire chillies” that used chillies from the supermarket.

In total, the LGR researched 558 local products from 300 shops, restaurants, markets and production centers in England and Wales and found:

  • 18% of the product claims were “undoubtedly false”;
  • 14% could not be verified (and were, thus, assumed to be false);
  • restaurants, with 19% false claims, were the worst, and manufacturers, with 11%, the least bad.

In typical British fashion, the LGR’s chairman, Paul Bettison, found the results to be “extremely worrying.”

“Many people want to support local businesses or choose food that has not travelled from the other side of the world, so it is vital that they have accurate information to help them make their choices,” he said. Looks like they have a lot of work to do to make this happen.

What About Local Food in the U.S.?

Most of our readers are in the U.S., so I imagine you want to know if local food in the U.S. follows the same pattern. As the Worldwatch Institute has pointed out, the term ‘local’ is fuzzy. In some places it may mean the county, in others the region, and in some small countries it could even mean the country. I haven’t found anyplace that really lays it out specifically for its residents and has a clear law on the matter. (Maybe you have and can share that info with us below?) Apparently, Maryland’s Department of Agriculture has published some ‘local’ food rules, but they basically just require that a seller label “the place of origin, naming the state where the product was originally grown or raised,” but not necessarily if it were sent somewhere in the course of the production process.

Because it is still very unclear what ‘local’ means, Maryland decided to stay out of creating the definition but at least made people selling ‘local’ food say where it is coming from.

Due to the fact that consumers do not agree on one definition, the Department does not propose to define for consumers what is or is not local. Instead, by requiring businesses to disclose the origin of the product, consumers can make their own determination as to whether a food advertised as ‘local’ meets their own standards.

Now, even with such a rule, those selling the food can lie. Many have been ‘caught’ selling local food that clearly wasn’t local when shoppers happened to find a label that accidentally wasn’t removed…

The solution? I don’t think there’s a perfect one for you, but asking questions, getting to know the people selling the food and the local farmers, and learning about your local agricultural community are good places to start.

Related Story: Which is Better for the Environment, Local or Vegetarian?

Photo Credit: psd