Food label rule breakers may go unpunished

By Marcus Dysch, December 17, 2009

New guidelines on the labelling of West Bank products will be hard to enforce and traders are unlikely to be punished for ignoring them.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued voluntary guidance to stores stating that labels on items imported to Britain from the West Bank should differentiate between “Israeli settlement produce” and “Palestinian produce”.

The government would consider traders to be “almost be certainly committing an offence”, if Palestinian produce from the West Bank was labelled as “produce of Israel”.

Products currently carry labels stating “produce of the West Bank” without clarifying whether it is from Palestinian producers or an Israeli settlement.

But officials at Defra and the FSA confirmed that until a precedent is set, it is impossible to predict whether a trader would be prosecuted.

The Israeli government and pro-Israel groups in Britain attacked the issuing of the guidelines, accusing the government of encouraging a boycott of goods from the settlements.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: “We see this move as a politicised yielding to anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups who want to promote a boycott.

“It sends the wrong message and will only radicalise the Palestinian position at a time when we are pushing to resume negotiations.”

A joint statement from the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and Fair Play Campaign Group said the move was “inconsistent” with the government’s opposition to a boycott.

“These guidelines will potentially impact upon many Palestinian workers, whose livelihoods are inextricably linked with their Israeli counterparts, and they do nothing to advance the peace process,” the statement added.

Zionist Federation chairman Andrew Balcombe said: “The British Jewish community has to face the fact that this government is the most anti-Israel government in many years and, together with the Swedish government, is the most anti-Israel government in the EU.”

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the advice had been issued in response to “consumer demand”.

Last updated: 5:03pm, December 17 2009