Fish labelling idea is slammed as madness by Grimsby Merchants' Association
A BID by Labour Euro MPs to increase the labelling burden on seafood has been described as "madness" by the chief executive of Grimsby Fish Merchants' Association.
An attempt to add catch dates to packaging was voted down in Brussels last week, and Steve Norton – who sits as a local Conservative councillor in North East Lincolnshire – believes the industry will be grateful to his European Parliamentary colleagues.
"I don't know why they would want to do it," he said. "I think labelling regulations are firmly established now in both EU and British law, and I think the Food Standards Agency does a very good job.
"The majority of fish we get from Iceland, we know where it is from, we know the vessel that caught it and we know the area of the catch. So much of it ends up in fish and chip shops. Do they anticipate a board there saying 'your fish was caught on Thursday, September 6, 35 degrees south west of Iceland'?
"I think this is something not fully understood and I am delighted that the right wing party, and the British Conservatives led by Timothy Kirkhope (also a Yorkshire and Humber representative) voted against this. It could have been madness."
Mr Norton has now brought the issue to the attention of Seafish's Food Legislation Export Group, a sub-committee which he sits on, and has got it on the agenda of the meeting in London tomorrow.
Earlier, Linda McAvan, Labour MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, said: "Consumers like to know their fish is fresh, and the present rules only tell you when the fish was landed in port, not when it was caught.
"We wanted to allow consumers to support the small-scale fishing boats in coastal communities, which go out on a daily basis and come back with their smaller, but fresher, catches.
"The rules agreed only tell consumers when the fish was landed, but it doesn't help me when I go to my local fish market and I want to know how fresh the fish I'm buying is," she said.
The European Parliament's Socialist and Democrat Group, of which Labour is a part, put forward an amendment to improve fish labelling rules in legislation which is part of the Common Fisheries Policy reform going through the European Parliament.
"Labour MEPs wanted to see labels on fish in supermarkets that show the species name, the area the fish was caught or farmed, the production method and date of catch so consumers can make informed choices," Ms McAvan added.
A recent survey conducted by the magazine Which? shows that eight out of ten British consumers want to know the date their fresh fish is caught, but with many retail packs already indicating a region, Mr Norton, vice-chairman of Humber Seafood Group, wondered what was to be gained by adding further "onerous requirements" to an industry wrapped in red tape.
"If they want to really help industry they should take the shackles off the Common Fisheries Policy and let them do the job they are supposed to do," he said.
"I would love to see more artisan fishing but they can't because of the rules they are governed by.
"I think we have as good a labelling system as we can hope for. I don't see any room for improving it, or any evidence from consumer groups crying out for more information.
"I actually think there is packaging overload at the moment, and would rather see more time spent working with supermarkets to reduce salt, fats and sugars from basic value items.
"They are far more detrimental to our health, and I'd have it far higher up the agenda."