Brown's food kitemark sparks jingoism fight

THE GOVERNMENT and the National Farmers Union are backing a new "British Food Kitemark" intended to boost the market for home produce, despite charges from a prominent academic that they're indulging in "food fascism".

THE GOVERNMENT and the National Farmers Union are backing a new "British Food Kitemark" intended to boost the market for home produce, despite charges from a prominent academic that they're indulging in "food fascism".

The plan is to create a single new "brand" to replace eleven symbols now used to mark foods from Britain. Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, has issued guidance to trading standards officers to clamp down on goods labelled as British but really from overseas. Today he will publish a consultation paper that proposes tightening up on "country of origin" labels.

Ben Gill, the NFU president, said British food was "among the finest in the world" and that British farmers were "producing wholesome high quality food while protecting wildlife and the environment".

He urged retailers and caterers to specify foods and challenged them to support "a quality British food logo".

But Tim Lang, professor of food policy at Thames Valley University, warned that "playing petty nationalism with food is highly dangerous".

"It has always been associated with fascism, demagoguery or failure. Food nationalism has only worked in Britain when we had an outside enemy, when we were surrounded by U-boats in the Second World War. But to cast France or Germany in that role as we are today is wrong and dangerous."

The performance of British agriculture on environment and animal welfare has been "patchy at best," he said, and its record on food poisoning was "lamentable". To have any value to consumers, a British Food label "must represent a coherent ethos, be highly monitored and, above all, have substance. The kite mark idea falls apart on all three grounds."

Asked about the record of British farmers on damaging hedgerows, ploughing up Sites of Special Scientific Interest and polluting the countryside with pesticides, Mr Gill said there was no need for new regulation. "The standards we have for animal welfare and environmental protection are second to none", he said. "Just compare what we do here with standards in South America where it's a question of bullets, bulldozers and boxes of matches."

Mr Brown also denied Professor Lang's charges. "We are not wrapping ourselves in the Union Jack to appeal to consumers on patriotic grounds. Our case is based on high quality food and high standards in health and animal welfare."

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