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Council Discusses Animal Welfare Labelling Scheme

by 5m Editor
18 December 2009, at 8:27am

EU - At the 2986th Council meeting on Agriculture and Fisheries earlier this week, progress was discussed in the development of a labelling scheme describing animal welfare.

The Council took note of the presentation by the Commission of its report on options for animal welfare labelling and the establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals (15307/09).

The report identifies various issues concerning animal welfare labelling and communication, and the possible establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals, based on the results of an external study provided to the Commission in January 2009.

The feasibility study on animal welfare labelling shows that the best option for EU action empowering consumers to make informed purchasing decisions is a Community Animal Welfare Label modelled after the EU organic label. A Community Animal Welfare Label can be expected to have more direct effects on animal welfare than other voluntary options, depending on the market share of the label.

The study shows, though, that labelling will only have the desired effects if consumers are adequately informed on the meaning of the label, and if the information provided is readily understandable.

The conference 'Animal Welfare – Improving by Labelling?' organised in Brussels on 28 March 2007 by the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Commission and the German Presidency enabled a first broad discussion to take place with representatives of all stakeholder groups.

Following that conference the Council adopted in May 2007 conclusions on animal welfare labelling (9151/07), inviting the Commission to assess further the issue of animal welfare labelling and to submit a report to the Council in order to allow an in-depth debate on the issue.

The debate on how to improve the communication on animal welfare in livestock production has been running in the EU for several years. The EU wants to promote animal related products elaborated under high welfare standards, so its overall goal of policy in this area is to make it easier for consumers to identify and choose welfare-friendly products, and thereby give an economic incentive to producers to improve the welfare of animals.

Surveys show that a majority of European consumers feel they lack information on the level of animal welfare provided in the production of the goods they buy. This is why the Community Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2006-2010 suggests the development of standardised animal welfare indicators, in order to provide for a science-based tool to make animal welfare measurable, more enforceable and easier to communicate to people.

In recent years, certification schemes have been widely introduced into the European food sector. An animal welfare labelling scheme is a certification system that certifies an animal welfare standard above existing legal standards.

There are mainly three drivers of existing animal welfare relevant labelling schemes:

  • Firstly, as a reaction to several food crisis or incidents, food law has been undergoing major changes in the EU in recent years. The general trend of the growing body of food-related EU legislation is very much driven by the EU’s objective to see a quality-driven single market in foodstuffs.
  • Second, public as well as private certification has become a widely accepted instrument for regulating food markets.
  • Third, consumer demands support animal welfare labelling. Empirical studies (mainly cluster analyses) have revealed the existence of a group of consumers who are interested in high-quality products. For these consumers, high quality often includes higher animal welfare standards. In many countries this quality-affine consumer segment is not adequately served, so there are market opportunities for products that combine higher animal welfare standards with top organoleptic qualities.

Animal welfare labelling schemes currently exist in these forms:

  • Schemes that focus only on animal welfare (e.g. Freedom Food (UK); Neuland (DE); Animal Index System (AT))
  • Schemes that focus on various aspects including animal welfare (Label Rouge (FR))
  • Schemes that focus on aspects other than animal welfare but have positive side effects on animal welfare (PDO/PGI schemes)

Freedom Food (UK)

Freedom Food is a farm assurance and food labelling scheme set up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in 1994 to improve farm animal welfare and to address growing consumer demand for food produced to higher animal welfare standards. For further information, click here.

Label Rouge (France)

Label Rouge is a French national quality assurance scheme for food products managed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Participation is open to groups of producers and processors of food products after demonstration of their ability to comply with the notices techniques, the minimum technical requirements of the label. Animal welfare specifications relate to the type of rearing, the genetics, maximum stock densities, the origin and type of feed, the slaughter age and the transport. 'Label Rouge' logo was created in 1965. French law governs the use of the label. The final product is not only marked with a logo, but also provides more detailed information on the production, the so-called 'caractéristiques certifiées'. The most important product segment of Label Rouge is poultry. For further information, click here.

Egg marketing legislation (EU)

The egg marketing legislation is designed to inform consumers of the production system used to produce eggs. It provides minimum standards, but Member States are free to go beyond this should they wish to. One example is the UK's Lion code. Legislation on the general labelling of eggs was first established in 1990 under a Council Regulation.

Although the labelling scheme is derived from EU legislation, the views of stakeholders including producer organisations and animal welfare organisations were considered in the drafting of the legislation. Egg labelling is not designed to be an animal welfare label, although consumers are able to purchase eggs from the system which they feel offers the best animal welfare, if this is an important factor in their purchase decision.

There are four permitted production system labels: eggs from caged hens, barn eggs, free-range eggs and organic eggs. The mandatory labelling scheme for eggs was introduced in 2004 following the optional ability to label eggs produced from caged hens as 'eggs from caged hens', which had been in operation since 1995.

A necessary precondition of the optional labelling was that this was meaningful to consumers and that they were prepared to pay a price premium for eggs produced in systems which they associated with higher animal welfare criteria.

Since the implementation of the legislation, the percentage of non-caged egg production has increased significantly in nearly all Member States.