The Government is urging restaurants to more widely adopt country of origin labelling and has said many caterers are still not providing enough information on the provenance of their food.
Food and Farming Minister Jim Paice has made the appeal to chefs and restaurateurs through a letter to the British Hospitality Association (BHA). In it he argues consumers are increasingly demanding information on where the main ingredients in the dishes they order come from.
"More than ever, people want to know where their food comes from, so it’s disappointing to see little improvement in the number of food products showing this information," Paice said.
In November 2010 representatives from across the food industry signed up to a voluntary code, facilitated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), to improve country of origin labelling (COOL) standards. However Paice argued there had been little action from caterers since then.
"Origin labelling helps people make informed choices and gives assurances on quality, production methods, and environmental impact. Whether it’s on a label, menu, or given verbally, I want to see all of industry making every effort to provide this information that the consumer has made it clear they want," he said.
There are currently no mandatory rules on country of origin labelling in restaurants although new EU rules set to come into force soon will mean consumers will have to be informed where the majority of the meat they buy comes from.
Paice has announced Defra will be inviting food businesses to a workshop in the autumn and would be investigating what barriers were preventing caterers from making more country of origin information available.
Last month BigHospitality reported on a wide consensus in the restaurant industry behind comments made by restaurateur Mark Hix that the majority of chefs do not know the breed or provenance of the chicken on their menu despite it being the most popular meat in the UK.
While the BHA has agreed to take part in a workshop and agreed diners were keen to know more about food provenance, John Dyson, the association’s food and technical affairs adviser, said caution was needed.
"Many caterers are already very pleased to state the origin of some of the products on their menus, such as meat or fish, but suppliers – and their source of supply – can change suddenly for reasons of availability, cost, quality or other factors."
"Restaurants with standard printed menus will have great difficulty in allowing for such sudden changes," he argued.
"In the current difficult economic environment and tough trading conditions a very practical solution, which will assist food service businesses in meeting their customers’ aspirations, will be needed," Dyson concluded.
Renaissance Pubs has tackled the issue of developing closer links with suppliers and being able to provide provenance information on menus by investing directly in a farm. BigHospitality paid a visit to see how it works for a video you can watch below: