Labelling to identify animal welfare-friendly products

The European Commission is mulling over labelling to help consumers’ identify animal welfare-friendly products and incentivise producers to improve welfare.

The EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou has even drawn attention to the benefits for the food industry, saying better labelling would be a “win-win” for consumers and producers.

But campaigners say voluntary measures are not enough. Voluntary animal welfare schemes in the EU do exist such as organic labelling, schemes run by animal protection charities like the RSCA’s Freedom Food, retailers’ schemes, and other marks like the Red Tractor, which may only refer to minimum legal requirements.

The Commission has now outlined a series of options to help co-ordinate labelling and has opened the subject for discussion between the European Council, Parliament, and other institutions. It is also suggesting that a European Network for Reference Centres be established.

After conducting a feasibility study and consulting with stakeholders, the Commission has come up with several options, all of them voluntary. It suggests the establishments of requirements for voluntary labelling claims; establishing a voluntary Community Animal Welfare Label open to all who met criteria; and drafting guidelines for animal welfare and quality schemes.

However for animal welfare campaigners, the options on the table do not go far enough. Compassion in World Farming, a UK-based NGO, says if labelling is voluntary, only products farmed with high animal welfare standards will be identified.

Mandatory labelling, on the other hand, would identify meat, poultry and dairy produce that are reared intensively. Compassion’s director of programmes John Callaghan pointed out that a mandatory system for eggs already exists, and is working well. Eggs must be marked from 0 to 3, with 0 denoting organic, 1 free ranged, 2 barn, and 3 caged.

“The remarkable rise in sales of non-cage eggs in many countries since the introduction of mandatory labelling of egg packs suggests that consumers are reacting positively to the availability of clear information as to farming method,” he said.

Indeed, Australia’s Sunny Queen Farms has recently been awarded the 2009 AMI Awards for Marketing Excellence’s New Product/Service Launch for its Cage Free eggs proving their popularity here.

In January 2009, Sunny Queen Farms launched a first-to-market innovation into the egg category via their new Cage Free product – achieving number one national egg brand status after just 16 weeks, boosting brand share by a massive 4.4 percentage points to an all-time record of 12.6%.

Compassion in the UK suggests the use of four terms for meat, poultry and dairy: indoor intensive, indoor extensive, free range and premium free range.

The Commission has assessed the feasibility of establishing a European Network for Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals, as stakeholders have expressed concern about co-ordination and use of existing scientific evidence. The idea is for the centres to provide technical support for developing and implementing animal welfare policies, including certification and labelling.

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