Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Guest blog by Enid Grattan-Guinness, High Cross and Thundridge WI, Proposer of the COOL campaign

I joined the WI because of the resolutions. My mother was also an active WI member for the same reason. However it took me from 1972 to find what I thought was a really suitable subject that affected all of our members, and one which (at the time) I thought could be easily dealt with.

A member of my WI told us about a Federation current affairs meeting she had been to, where she had learnt about the lion mark on eggs. I was curious, and when investigating the egg and the lion for myself, I ran into the subject of the mislabelling of food. I read about an East Anglian MP who was trying to get the law changed on the label wording of imported pork which could be called 'British' if it had been processed in some way in the UK, even though it had come from another country whose treatment of animals may not match the stringent regulations in this country. He was doing this on behalf of the East Anglian pig farmers. I wrote to him, and he was delighted that I had picked it up and was thinking of making a resolution about it.

Enid Grattan-Guinness with pigs on a British farm

I wrote to my own MP, the Ministry in charge of food, the NFU and my local trading standards office, all of whom sent me a great deal of information. The most important information I found stated that there was an EU ruling with a loophole, which had originally been nothing to do with food but with making parts of white goods in various countries within the EU and the final assembly in one country, which could then say it was a product of that country. It was later agreed by the European court that this could also apply to food. Thus in the UK chickens and other meat could be imported from overseas, cooked and re-sold in various ways, and then labelled as 'British' quite legally.   

My WI agreed that it was a good resolution and that we had a right to know where our food came from, and encouraged me to continue with it. So I carried on with my research, and started on the resolution wording. This is not as easy as you might think, as a WI resolution has to be something that we as members can easily get involved with and follow up in our own way in our own areas, as well as writing letters to MPs and asking the government to do something about it.

The rest is history regarding it being short listed, and to my total amazement, being finally chosen as the resolution that year. I was well into my 70s when this resolution was chosen, which just shows that age is no barrier to your going ahead!

Following much campaigning by members, in 2015, EU rules came into force which introduced country of origin labelling for unprocessed, sheep, goat, chicken and pork meat products. This means the label must show the country in which the animal was reared and slaughtered.

In the UK the government has gone further, and worked with the large supermarkets to voluntarily put country of origin information on packaging. This means that the vast majority of fresh produce, meat, milk and dairy products now include this information.

Many members also went to their local shops and restaurants and lobbied the manager to give them what they wanted.

The issue of country of origin labelling is still live. The resolution and our strong campaigning locally and nationally have made it clear how important knowing the source of our food is to us and our families. This has helped make decision makers aware of other labelling issues that they are able to deal with, which perhaps would not have been dealt with had our whole membership not made it quite clear that we wanted honesty from our food producers.   

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