Incorporating information about the way in which animals are reared (method of production) on the labels of products has the potential to transform consumption patterns, which can contribute to improved levels of animal welfare on farms.
Method-of-production labelling on animal products helps consumers to make choices to support production processes that are more respectful of animal welfare. In turn, this can accelerate a transition to a more humane animal agriculture industry.
The introduction of the egg labelling scheme in 2008 is a notable example of how this works in practice. Under the scheme, all imports of shell eggs must be labelled according to their method of production. The rules require country-of-origin labelling on imported eggs and further impose a “non-EC standards” mark for imports where there is “no sufficient guarantee as to the equivalence of rules”. The number of egg-laying hens kept in alternative, non-cage systems steadily increased in the EU following the introduction of the scheme, indicating the positive impact of a higher level of transparency.
Six member organisations of Eurogroup for Animals have developed their animal welfare label, some of them pioneering the field, and including in Member States where other existing public or corporate animal welfare labels already exist.
These initiatives by the nonprofit sector have led animal protection organisations to work hand in hand with public administrations, consumers, certifiers, retailers, producers, and farmers. Based on years of the seasoned experience of its members, Eurogroup for Animals proposes what would be the most effective format for an animal welfare label.
This label, called “Method-of-Production Plus” (“MoP+”), aims to ensure high quality information to consumers, paving the way to more humane production methods, all the while bolstering fair competition on the common market.
ITALIANS HAVE A BASIC KNOWLEDGE OF FARMING CONDITIONS
EU CITIZENS WOULD PAY AN ADDITIONAL 5% TO ENSURE THEIR PRODUCTS ARE ANIMAL-FRIENDLY
CONSUMERS CONSIDER IMPORTANT FOR A LABEL TO STATE WHETHER A FISH WAS FARMED OR CAUGHT WILD
WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?
An Italian survey showed that a large majority of respondents would like to be able to consider animal welfare in their consumer behaviour. A majority also considered that labelling products would be a good way to help them make purchasing decisions. This aligns with findings in the 2016 Eurobarometer survey on Animal Welfare, which showed that 59% of EU citizens would be willing to pay an additional 5% to ensure their products are animal-friendly.
At the same time, though, most respondents did not believe that current labelling practices were helpful. In fact, many considered labels not to be truthful. Any campaign to inform consumers or change public perception of an issue will inevitably be met with pushback from vested interests trying to take over the conversation, as has happened in environmental campaigns (greenwashing). “Humane-washing” is now happening as well. Companies are labelling their products with vaguely green or animal friendly-sounding terms meant to trick consumers into thinking they are buying responsibly. They can do so because there is no EU legislation governing such claims.
POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY
The EU has various labelling schemes in place, notably on the country of origin of meat products, as well as for organic products and GMOs. None of these however, require producers and retailers to demonstrate the animal welfare conditions in which animals were raised. The only exception is the welfare labelling system required by the EU which states the method of production for eggs.
Since 2013, EU rules have also required labelling on all fish products marketed in the EU that indicates the method of production, catch area and fishing gear used, among other factors. Information regarding the impact of this labelling scheme on consumer behaviour is not available. However, a Eurobarometer study on fishery and aquaculture products provides some insight, with 73% of consumers saying they consider it important for a label to state whether a fish was farmed or caught wild.
On a national level, animal welfare labelling has considerably developed over the past decade in certain European countries. Denmark has implemented an animal welfare label, and work is in progress in Germany to create a governmental label for pigs. In France retailers such as Casino France, alongside Fondation Droit Animal, Éthique et Sciences and Compassion in World Farming France, have undertaken labelling initiatives on animal welfare. Several NGOs have developed their own schemes in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, the UK, Austria and Spain.
Multifunctional labels, such as Label Rouge in France and the EU organic labelling scheme, add to the complexity of the labelling landscape. These do not focus solely on one type of information, and instead cover a variety of overlapping parameters. Though they aim to harmonise production, they also risk undermining the accuracy of the information.
At the Platform on Animal Welfare, the official forum of animal welfare stakeholders in the European Commission, DG Sante announced the creation of a sub-working group on labeling. The German Government, which took the Presidency of the European Council on July 1st 2020, announced that it would make animal welfare labeling a priority in its agenda for the next six months. Another item high on the agenda of the German Government is the closing of the CAP reform, with some potential increase in resources for labeled producers.
These rapid developments follow the creation of a state label in Germany (over which our member Deutscher Tierschutzbund had expressed concern regarding its level of ambition and feasibility), as well as the Finnish Presidency Council Conclusions of December 2019, where a majority (19) of Member States had approved the creation of an animal welfare label. Member States overwhelmingly supported the German Government’s proposal for an EU animal welfare label, provided it would be voluntary. The European Commission’s communication on the Farm-to-Fork Strategy announced the implementation of an animal welfare label, where we believe there is an ample scope for requesting an MoP + label.