Method-of-production labelling

Method-of-production labels on products can contribute to improved levels of animal welfare on farms.

Incorporating information about the way in which animals are reared helps consumers make choices in the supermarket 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.

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.

Vegetarian and vegan labelling initiatives already exist on the European market, and producers and distributors increasingly provide information on the suitability of their food products for vegetarians and vegans.

Although the impact of labelling of vegan or vegetarian products on shifting diets is yet unproven, clearer labelling makes them more visible. 

It helps consumers who are seeking to transition to vegetarianism or simply just reduce their meat, dairy and egg consumption.

However, the meat and dairy industries have acted to limit the use of certain marketing terms.

Mislabelled plant-based products can create confusion and hinder the wide range of alternatives from reducing animal-product consumption, so EU law should not prevent manufacturers of vegetarian and vegan products from marketing their output as meat and dairy alternatives. 

IN AN ITALIAN SURVEY,

89%

SAID THEY HAVE AT LEAST A BASIC KNOWLEDGE OF FARMING CONDITIONS

59%

OF EU CITIZENS WOULD PAY AN ADDITIONAL 5% TO ENSURE THEIR PRODUCTS ARE ANIMAL-FRIENDLY

A EUROBAROMETER SURVEY SHOWED

73%

OF CONSUMERS CONSIDER IT 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 which showed that 59% of EU citizens would be willing to pay an additional 5% for animal-friendly products. 

At the same time, though, many respondents 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, as has happened in environmental campaigns (‘greenwashing’). Companies can label their products with animal friendly-sounding terms to trick consumers into thinking they are buying responsibly, because there is no EU legislation governing such claims. 

However, the proliferation of intensive farming and the publicity around its negative effects, as well as growing global crises such as climate change and antimicrobial resistance, have made consumers more open to considering alternatives to animal-based products.

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. However, none of these require producers and vendors 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.

Eurogroup for Animals would like to see the EC commit to introducing mandatory labelling on method of production for all animal products, starting with broiler chickens, and following several successful pilots at national and corporate level.  

We also support the development of voluntary higher welfare schemes. Our key objective is to achieve successful basic information for consumers at EU level (mandatory method-of-production labelling) and support more sophisticated information (animal welfare labelling) at national level. 

We will also support more robust EU regulation of marketing standards for meat and dairy products with which producers must comply to be authorised to sell on the EU market, as well as opportunities to better regulate commercial claims about farm animal welfare within the existing legislation on misleading advertising.

Eurogroup for Animals will monitor the implementation of the EU regulation on the use of terms such as ‘meat’ and ‘dairy’, and respond to attempts from the meat and dairy industries to reduce the scope of the use of certain terms provided by EU legislation. Regarding food products for vegetarians and vegans, Eurogroup for Animals will monitor and support a harmonised approach at EU level that would implement common standards and reduce consumer confusion while mainstreaming plant-based diets.