In the EU food market, different food labelling schemes co-exist with the aim of informing customers and providing trust on different quality characteristics of food products. There is no European food label as regards animal welfare but some countries like Germany, Denmark and the UK have example of such labelling.
Many consumers value labelling schemes that are regulated by EU law (e.g. organic products, PDO indication, nutritional fact panel). Labelling is an important cue for consumers as it helps to quickly communicate information about a product or production process. In policy-making, the consumption of specially labelled products and its role in improving the welfare of livestock, has attracted considerable attention.
Are all the labels the same?
The majority of local and national experimentations on animal welfare labelling tend to be binary, indicating whether a product was produced using animal welfare friendly standards or not. Yet, there are many intermediate qualities that binary labels could not portray, turning those experiments into market failure and no-go zone for many farmers. In this regard, multi-level label experimentations seem more promising at they may show different process standards of products in an explicit way. Further tests need to be conducted to evaluate consumers reactions and understandings of those systems.
On the other hand, many quality labels that are already well-established take already into account animal welfare standards in their specifications on issues such as transportation or slaughter conditions.
What would be the objective of an EU animal welfare label?
From the examples already existing in the EU market in some member States like Germany, the objective of the animal welfare label would be to inform the consumer about which products are above the legal standards. With pork products for example, Germany has a label which considers the conditions of the facilities where the piglets are born, the lactation duration, if they are castrated and how, the farmer’s training on animal welfare, transportation to the slaughterhouse, methods and welfare in these facilities, and how they go further from the legal standard requirements. In Denmark, on the other hand, they developed a “hearts” scoring system in 2017, from one to three depending on the level of animal welfare applied to pork production. In 2018, the Danish authorities released a report where they have found only 4 cases of infringement after inspecting 66 farms. The requirements to get more than one heart on your label depends, mainly, on space available for the animals or the conditions of production (outdoor production and maximum 8 hours of transportation).
Why is there no EU level label on animal welfare?
Firstly, because the harmonised risk indicators on animal welfare for the EU are still being developed by the European Commission and, secondly, because there is no common definition at EU level on what “animal welfare” means and implies in terms of practices. The European livestock sector is engaged in all debates around this issue in order to get clear definitions while taking into account the many different factors.
– Special Eurobarometer 442, December 2015