Britain defends West Bank labeling

Government says move will not lead to anti-Israel boycott; officials to meet Tuesday to discuss issue.

Fruits224-88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The British government has denied reports that a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the labelling of West Bank produce will lead to a boycott of Israeli goods. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said on Friday that the roundtable meeting, which is hosted by the Cabinet Office, is only an industry consultation to look at the feasibility of giving the public more details on the origins of produce. The meeting will also look at ways DEFRA can advise food producers who decide voluntarily that they want to provide the public with more information. "It is a small roundtable meeting as part of an industry consultation process, to discuss the draft of new, voluntary guidance on origin labelling of produce sourced from the Occupied Palestinian Territories [OPTs]," a DEFRA spokesman told The Jerusalem Post. Providing country-of-origin labelling on foods is voluntary in the UK, with some producers choosing to state if a product comes from Israel or the West Bank. DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency provide voluntary guidance and advice on how producers can make origin labelling more informative for consumers. DEFRA said the guidance is in response to enquiries from the food industry and members of the public regarding what origin should be stated on food and drinks produced and packed in the West Bank. "The objective of the guidance is to help retailers and traders to provide clearer origin-labelling for products sourced from the OPTs, with particular focus on the West Bank," the DEFRA spokesman said. The roundtable participants will comprise representatives from food retailers, trading organizations, consumer groups and an NGO, thought to be Oxfam, a charity that on its Web site lists the countries it works in, with Israel listed as "Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel." Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, has questioned the agenda of the meeting saying it risks "encouraging those working for a wider program of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. "No meetings have taken place at this level to discuss produce from other territories that the British Government considers occupied," Newmark added. "By involving groups which campaign for a boycott and a ban on all settlement goods, the government is making it harder to believe that this meeting is purely about giving consumers choice. These plans also risk harming the incomes of over 20,000 Palestinian workers whose earn their livelihoods in the production of such goods." Other government departments and agencies attending will be the Food Standards Agency; Revenue and Customs; the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform; the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office.