On 2nd December Phyllis Starkey, MP for Milton Keynes South West secured an adjournment debate on the labelling of products from the illegal settlements in occupied Palestine (see our earlier posting House of Commons: Adjournment debate on labelling of settlement goods). She stressed that consumers are confused by the labelling of these goods as ‘West Bank’, as it is impossible to make an informed choice as to whether the goods are sourced from illegal settlements in occupied territories, or from Palestinian farmers She alerted the Minister to Defra’s promise earlier in the year to launch a consultation process on this matter. However this promise remains unfulfilled. She highlighted legal advice that misleading labelling of this nature could be illegal.
The Minister, Jim Fitzpatrick stated that the Government’s lawyers disagreed with the legal advice obtained. He confirmed that guidance would be issued before the end of this session as to how to deal with this matter. However his statement is ambiguous, as it is unclear whether there will just be guidance on labelling, or whether by the end of this session a time table for consultation will be set out.
We believe that there is a strong desire among consumers to address this issue and in this spirit have composed a model letter for people to send to their MPs. It is vital that MPs and Ministers recognise the strength of feeling on this issue. We would therefore urge you to send the letter as soon as possible as the session ends on 16th December.
We would advise using the website www.writetothem.com. They will send faxes to your MP and guide you through the simplified process.
Dear (Name of MP)
For some time I have been waiting for guidance from Defra about the labelling of agricultural products from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. All products from the West Bank are labelled ‘West Bank’. In my view this is highly misleading. It is impossible for me to understand whether the product displayed is from an illegal Israeli settlement, or from Palestinian farmers trying to export their goods from the occupied West Bank.
It is therefore with some relief that I understand that Defra will be issuing guidance by the end of this Parliamentary session. However I am somewhat confused on one point. Please could you ask Jim Fitzpatrick, the responsible DEFRA minister, to clarify what he said in the adjournment debate on 2nd December 2009? It was not clear from his remarks whether the government intend to issue guidance on labelling, or on the details of the delayed consultation. In my view a consultation period is sorely needed to establish the facts in the face of conflicting legal advice.
However on one point the Minister was clear, namely that it is illegal to label goods from occupied Palestinian territory as coming from Israel. Could the Minister please explain how to enforce this when (as stated by Phyllis Starkey MP in the adjournment debate on 2nd December) it is well known that products from the illegal settlements can be mixed with Israeli products and marketed by Agrexco in this country as Israeli produce. Further, I would be interested to hear whether the Government now intends to enforce this ruling with respect to Ahava cosmetics, sourced from an Israeli factory in occupied Palestine, but marketed as Israeli goods. The wines from the Golan are also marketed as Israeli wines. Can I be assured that, since there is no ambiguity about the occupation of the Golan, Her Majesty’s Government will follow the Swedish practice and insist that these wines are labelled as coming from ‘occupied Syrian land’.
I would be grateful if you could emphasise to Mr Fitzpatrick, that the delay in mounting the promised consultation has undermined the credibility of the government. While much credit is due to ministers for taking up the issue in the first place, it is important to follow this matter up effectively so that consumers like me can receive the clear advice that will enable them to make the most informed choice.
The present situation is, in my view, untenable.