New research commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has revealed that there is a low level of consumer engagement with, and understanding of, country of origin labelling (COOL).

Carried out by Oxford Evidentia, the research brings together five studies investigating consumers’ attitudes, use and understanding of COOL - which signifies ‘the place of the last substantial change’ to food products such as pies.

The findings revealed that consumers were unclear as to what country of origin referred to, particularly in relation to meat - whether it referred to where the animal was born, reared, slaughtered or processed. For example, a sausage roll manufactured in Britain could be labelled as manufactured in the UK, even if the pig was reared and slaughtered in another country.

When consumers were asked what information they looked for when purchasing food for the first time, only 11% of respondents in the survey by NatCen mentioned that they looked for country of origin labels.

However, when asked in whether they looked for country of origin information, the figure rose to 52%.  

Price and food safety information, for example use-by dates, were largely considered to be more important factors, than COOL, by consumers, according to the FSA report.

In September 2009, the FSA published revised origin labelling guidelines. Currently, it is required on a number of individual food stuffs including beef, certain fruit and vegetables, honey and eggs.

However, new European labelling rules are being proposed in Brussels, and the results of this new research would “help to inform discussions about a European proposal on food labelling,” said the FSA.

At the moment most food, including pies and sausage rolls, is only required to include country of origin information if it would otherwise be misleading to the consumer.