Labels on intensively farmed meat and dairy products often use words and pictures that suggest the animals have lived good, free lives. But do they tell the truth about factory farming, transport and slaughter?
Using language such as 'Farm Fresh' and 'Quality Assured', food labels often show photos of farms or farmers standing in rolling countryside. All of these may be used to mask the truth about factory farming.
But nobody wants to buy into poor animal welfare. OneKind believes that everyone who buys and eats animal-derived foods would prefer to make informed choices about food quality, including the way that the animals lived and died. And the only way to give consumers real choice is to tell them the truth – by putting the truth on the label.
OneKind supports Labelling Matters, a joint campaign by animal welfare groups in Europe and the UK, setting out to prove that EU food labelling laws are unfit for purpose and to demand change. The campaign is led by Compassion in World Farming, RSPCA, Soil Association and the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
Labelling Matters is calling for mandatory method of production labelling of meat and dairy products across the EU, with assured welfare outcomes. This should be at the heart of new animal welfare legislation due to be proposed in 2014 by the European Commission. Specifically, the EU should:
- Agree farm system definitions that accurately describe the farming method used for the different species, and are recognisable to consumers
- Using those definitions, deliver compulsory method of production labelling of all meat and dairy products sold in the EU
Better for consumers
Clear labelling gives consumers the opportunity to identify higher welfare and lower welfare food products and choose which system they will spend their money on.
Better for animals
The choices made by consumers have already helped raise standards of farm animal welfare in Europe. For example, when the EU made it a legal requirement to label eggs to show how they were produced, sales of “cage-free” eggs rose dramatically. Hundreds of thousands of consumers turned away from the barren battery cage system and demanded something better.
Method of production labelling, allowing consumers to identify higher welfare meat and dairy products will also encourage farmers and retailers to change. As a result, more animals will be reared in extensive systems and have a better life.
Better for farmers
Mandatory method of production labelling will also help provide recognition for farmers who are prepared to invest in higher welfare systems.
The EU Animal Welfare Strategy 2012-15 recognises that consumers are not always well informed about today’s farming methods and their impact on the welfare of animals. It emphasises the EU’s intention to increase transparency and the provision of adequate information - empowering consumers to make informed choices in order that the market can drive further improvements in farm animal welfare.
Currently the Commission is considering whether to propose a legislative framework for animal welfare in 2014. If it does, the proposed framework will provide the structure through which the Commission intends to deliver its strategy. As part of the framework the Commission is considering extending mandatory method of production labelling, which already exists for shell eggs, to meat and dairy products. 'Information for consumers' and 'outcome-based assessments' are two of the four key axes around which the Commission plans to build its framework.
We are pleased the Commission has included mandatory method of production labelling as an option for the 2014 framework. However, we are concerned that the Commission does not regard this as its preferred option. In our view, mandatory method of production labelling is the best way to give consumers the information they need, and allow them to make informed choices.
At the beginning of the project, Labelling Matters set out to show just how confusing food labels could be. We would like to say a big thank you to all OneKind supporters who helped us track down misleading labels.
A detailed consumer survey http://www.labellingmatters.org/latest-news/groundbreaking-study-shows-that-consumers-want-to-know-how-their-food-is-produced.htmlwas commissioned by Labelling Matters earlier in 2013, seeking the opinions of thousands of consumers about existing labels, recognition of the EU egg labelling scheme, and the appetite for seeing the scheme extended to meat and dairy products.
- 83% of UK consumers answered that method of production labelling, based on the egg model, should definitely or probably be extended to all meat and dairy products. In the Czech Republic it was 78%, and in France it was 92% of consumers.
- 79% of UK respondents answered that animal welfare was very important or quite important to them when deciding which meat and dairy products to buy. In the Czech Republic it was 60%, and in France it was 80% of consumers.
- 73% of UK respondents thought that method of production labelling terms, like those which exist for eggs, definitely or usually provide clear information for them to make an informed choice. In the Czech Republic it was 70%, and in France it was 82% of consumers.
- 88% agreed strongly or slightly that they would be happy to see more information on food packaging if they felt the information was useful to them. In the Czech Republic it was 84%, and in France it was 90% of consumers.
What can you do?
Labelling Matters sets out to demonstrate a strong groundswell of support for our aims, from across EU Member States. Only mandatory method of production labelling, as shown by the egg model, offers real change.