Buyer Beware: 'Local' Food In Britain Comes From As Far Away As New Zealand, Study Shows

borough market southwark london photo

Borough Market in Southwark, London. Photo: Herry Lawford / Creative Commons.

Shoppers in England and Wales who have been carefully seeking out locally produced foods while making their market rounds came in for a shock this week when a government body announced that foods labeled "local" actually came from other European countries, and even from as far away as New Zealand.Inspectors with Local Government Regulation "tested 558 items in 300 shops, restaurants, markets, and factories" labeled as "local" and found that nearly a fifth -- and perhaps far more -- were "making the claim falsely," the BBC reported today:

They found misleading labels including "Welsh lamb" which actually came from New Zealand, "Somerset butter" from Scotland, and "Devon ham" from Denmark.

The LGR said 18 percent of the local claims were "undoubtedly false," with a further 14 percent unverifiable. The LGR, which oversees council regulation, said it therefore assumed these to be false too.

As with advertising staples such as "all-natural" or "eco-friendly," there is no legal definition of the term "local" in food-labeling legislation, although guidelines say food so identified should not come from further away than neighboring counties, the BBC said.

Other results of the survey, which the LGR chairman called "extremely worrying," showed that some locally caught fish is processed in China, and that "fresh local cream" might be none of the above, but rather "a cream substitute containing vegetable fat."

All the more reason for savvy shoppers -- in Britain and elsewhere -- to get to know their local farmer instead of relying on labeling claims.

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