Every day, millions of people put a lot of trust in the food industry. More and more of us check product labels on a regular basis to make sure what we are buying meets our individual requirements – be they for low fat foods, sugarless concoctions, organically certified foods, clean label products or anything else. And when we buy a food product, we expect it to contain what it says it does on the label.
Thought for Food Blog
History of food labelling
Food labelling as we know it today dates back to the 19th century. Interestingly, it was initially developed as a '...logistical aid to the enforcement of adulteration laws and the levying of duties and taxes on bread' rather than to protect consumers.
It was concerns over chemical safety during World War II that triggered the enactment of The Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations 1943 to protect consumers from misleading labels as to the nature, substance or quality of food.
Then, in 1973, the European Economic Community (EEC) membership brought the European Commission (EC) Labelling Directive 79/112/EEC into the UK, strengthening the ban on misleading presentation and claims on food products. This evolved, through various iterations, into Directive 2000/13/EC.
In 2008, melamine was added to milk and infant formula to increase its protein content. This led to the hospitalisation of around 54,000 infants, 6 deaths from kidney stones and, ultimately, a number of criminal prosecutions, resulting in 2 executions.
In 2013, horsemeat was found in burgers and ready meals sold in UK supermarkets. Although not physically harmed, consumers – who thought they were eating beef – were less than happy. The incident highlighted the vulnerability of the food supply chain and Tesco, one of the supermarkets selling the adulterated meat, underwent – €300 million drop in market value.
Meat consumption trends
In recent years, consumers in western countries have reduced their meat intake, due largely to ethical, sustainability, health and religious issues. However, in 2014, global meat sales increased by 3%, reaching 225 million tonnes. This increase was fuelled by growing demand in developing markets. For example, meat intake in India has increased by almost 50% since 2009. Overall, poultry is the most popular meat, but consumer preference for particular types of meat varies between different countries. In China, sales of beef and veal have overtaken those of pork, whereas in Poland, consumption of pork is higher than that of beef or poultry.
In 2013 China was beset with some stomach-churning food scandals ranging from a 'company' selling cooking oil made from discarded animal parts to a gang selling meat products from animal waste containing, among other things, fox hair, duck feathers and chicken anus.
Last October, a court in eastern China's Jiangsu province sentenced 16 men to prison for processing and selling 5,000 tons of recycled cooking oil made from a blend of discarded animal parts.