Since September 2023 I have been checking food labels when we go to our local Tesco and Sainsbury’s for the country of origin and am concerned by what I found.

I bought Tesco dried chickpeas very clearly labelled “produce of Russia” and “packed in the UK”. However, in Sainsbury’s the chickpeas just say “packed in the UK” on the can, with no country of origin.

Sainsbury’s own-brand basmati rice is labelled “using rice from India and Pakistan” and “packed in the Netherlands”. Tesco’s own-brand golden granulated sugar offers no country of origin, and does not say where it is packed.

I don’t know what is more concerning: that nearly two years after the invasion of Ukraine Tesco is still selling Russian chickpeas (but gives no information about where its sugar is from, or packaged), or that Sainsbury’s does not state where its chickpeas come from at all. What is going on?

BN, Hook

We’ll deal with the Russian chickpeas first, as Tesco is emphatic that it has not sourced pulses from there since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Tesco says the chickpea labelling you sent us a picture of dates from before the war and, because you could not provide a receipt, we could not confirm when it was bought. Due to the long shelf life of the product, it is possible that last year there was still a small amount of residual stock for sale.

As to your more general point about the lack of consistency, I sympathise. But these retailers are complying with UK food labelling law. They do not have to provide the information you seek on all products and, in some cases, are going further than required, even if that results in the imperfect picture you highlight.

The British Retail Consortium says stating the “country of origin” is mandatory only on specific foods, a list that includes fresh fruit and vegetables, unprocessed meats, fish, wine and olive oil.

It adds that its members are not legally required to provide an origin for any other product but “will try to voluntarily place country of origin where they can”. The rules could change, however, as the environment secretary, Steve Barclay, has just announced a consultation on food labelling with a view to improving transparency so consumers can “make informed decisions at the supermarket shelf and online”.

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