years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
Production-method labelling to improve welfare of animals raised for food
Animals Asia encourages meat and dairy consumers to source foods containing animal products from animals raised to the highest welfare standards to alleviate some of the suffering inflicted on animals raised in intensive production systems – estimated at some 60 billion per year worldwide.
To aid consumer choice we are calling for clear animal production method labelling. Increasing numbers of consumers are turning to products reared to higher welfare standards, but without a globally standardised labelling definition, method of production is often very vague and terms are open to be misused by food producers.
Many processed food products contain more than one animal product, making it even more difficult for consumers to know the animal-welfare standards behind the food.
RSPCA UK: Freedom Foods
In 1994, the RSPCA in the UK developed the “Freedom Foods” initiative to encourage consumers who buy animal-based food products to source those produced to higher welfare standards and farmers to adopt higher standards to receive the nationally recognised “Freedom Food” accreditation.
Freedom Food is the only UK farm assurance and food labelling scheme to focus solely on improving the welfare of farm animals reared for food. The Freedom Food scheme covers every stage of a farm animal’s life, from raising the animal on the farm, handling, transportation and slaughter, with each stage governed by strict and compulsory RSPCA welfare standards. There are specific RSPCA welfare standards for laying hens, chickens, turkeys, ducks, salmon, pigs, sheep, beef and dairy cattle. These standards, developed by the RSPCA’s team of farm animal welfare scientists, take into account scientific research, advice from veterinary specialists and practical experience from the farming industry.
Humane Society International, Australia: Humane Choice
In Australia, the Humane Society International has implemented the “Humane Choice” farm accreditation scheme. The Humane Choice label denotes the animal has had the best life and death offered to any farm animal. Humane Choice animals must be free to exhibit natural behaviours, including natural mating and rearing their young. They must be free to roam their paddocks and enjoy the sunshine and company of their herd or flock. These free-range animals will be fed a well-balanced diet that does not include antibiotics, growth promoters or hormones. If an animal is ill or injured, it will receive veterinary attention and be well cared for. Transportation times will be minimal and abattoirs will be inspected to ensure the welfare of the animal.
Standards have been developed for poultry, cattle, sheep and pigs.
European Food Labelling
Across Europe consumers have expressed a desire for information on the production methods of meat and dairy-based foods. The European Commission wants to promote animal-related products produced using high welfare standards and enable consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions, which will in turn, give an economic incentive to producers to improve the welfare of animals. In 2004, the European Commission funded a five year study called “Welfare Quality”. This project aimed to integrate animal welfare into the food quality chain, recognising that food quality can be improved by raising animal-welfare standards on farms, and higher welfare standards can lead to greater disease resistance in animals, which in turn has a direct bearing on food quality and safety.
he desired outcome of the Welfare Quality programme is the development of a farm assessment programme based on scientific research, which can be translated into a standardised food labelling scheme based on the assessment of such welfare standards on cattle, pig and poultry farms. This would provide EU consumers with clear choice as to the welfare standards of the animals raised to produce the foods they purchase.
Welfare Quality has developed on-farm monitoring systems, product information systems, and practical species-specific strategies to improve animal welfare across Europe.
Welfare Quality defined four animal-welfare principles: Good housing, good feeding, good health and appropriate behaviour. Each principle comprises two to four criteria. Criteria are independent of each other and form an exhaustive but minimal list. Welfare principles and criteria are summarised in the table below.
Absence of prolonged hunger
Absence of prolonged thirst
Comfort around resting
Ease of movement
Absence of injuries
Absence of disease
Absence of pain induced by management procedures
Expression of social behaviours
Expression of other behaviours
Good human-animal relationship
Positive emotional state
The practical assessment systems measure each of these 12 criteria in dairy cattle, beef cattle, veal calves, sows, fattening pigs, laying hens and broilers, and produces a value score to reflect the compliance of a given farm with each of the 12 welfare criteria. The systems have been tested on more than 700 farms across nine European countries and Latin American farms. After the final aggregation of measures an overall score is reached which can be used to place farms and slaughterhouses into one of four categories:
If this method is adopted across Europe, all foods could be labelled with such welfare standards, allowing consumers to make informed purchasing decisions based on such welfare measures.
Action on food labelling: foods containing eggs
Animals Asia supports schemes that benefit the welfare of animals on farms and provide consumers with clear and consistent information on the animal-welfare standards of the foods they buy.
In the UK, Animals Asia is supporting the work of the Battery Hen Welfare Trust www.bhwt.org.uk calling for production-method labelling for food products containing eggs.
While shell eggs produced in Europe are required to be labelled with their method of production, food products containing eggs are not required to state the production method of the eggs. This allows food producers to buy eggs from battery farms and hide this from the end consumer.
The BHWT has written the following letter to the European Commission on this subject:
Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou
DG Health and Consumers
Dear Commissioner Vassiliou,
Re: Labeling of Processed Foods containing egg/egg derivatives with production method
I am writing with regards the inclusion of farming method and/or place of origin labeling for all multi-ingredient foods containing egg/egg derivatives within the EU.
In 2012 the EU bans the conventional cage; whilst we are pleased this legislation has been developed we are concerned about the negative impact it is already having on (a) the welfare of egg laying hens globally, (b) UK farmers.
Following the ban the EU is likely to see increased imports of both shell eggs and products containing egg derivatives produced from conventionally caged hens outside the EU. Egg trade data from the Office of National Statistics shows evidence of this trend: in 1999 (pre-2012 ban) the UK imported 631,000 egg cases whilst in 2008 the figure has risen to 4,352,000 cases. A similar year on year rise can be seen from the egg products data.
Due to increasing costs of egg production and the costs of farmers converting from conventional to enriched, barn or free-range production, the supply of eggs across the EU will be further reduced from 2012. This in turn will encourage food processing companies and the foodservice sector to import cheaper eggs and products containing egg derivatives produced by hens housed in conventional cages in non-EU countries. We are already beginning to see the impact of this on UK egg production, a recent report shows that following the announcement of the 2012 ban egg farmers are already leaving or planning to leave the industry, with many stating there is no cost effective way of staying in production. From our discussions with farmers this has already started to lead to a shortage of eggs in the UK which is having two current impacts:
Increasing the price of eggs and leading farmers to keep their hens on the current conventional cages for longer; and
An increase in eggs/egg derivatives entering the country from countries such as the Ukraine and India where welfare standards are considerably lower than the EU (this is likely to become an increasing problem as more UK farmers abandon egg production in the UK)
These problems urgently need addressing to prevent a further decline in the UK egg industry. As an animal welfare charity we applaud the development of stricter welfare legislation but we would also like to see farming remain strong in the UK where there is a desire to continue to improve welfare standards for farm animals.
Egg packs containing shell eggs have to be labelled with the farming method, therefore consumers can chose to purchase eggs raised by higher welfare standards. Processed food which contains egg/egg derivatives does not need to be labelled with farming method nor country of origin making it difficult for consumers to choose higher welfare products or products made in the EU. To uphold EU welfare standards and support UK production it is vital that consumers are able to distinguish between processed food containing eggs produced by hens in conventional cages and those produced by higher welfare standards.
The BHWT recommends the EU adopt mandatory labeling of production methods to all foods containing egg/egg derivatives produced in the EU and adopt the same policy for imported products. This measure will improve consumer choice. Increasing numbers of consumers demonstrating a preference for higher welfare products will lead to processing companies purchasing eggs from higher welfare systems and subsequently help support egg farmers farming to higher welfare standards than non-EU farmers.
The current regulations for the European Parliament and the council on the provision of food information to consumers COM(2008)40 and the Communication on Agricultural Product Quality COM(2009) 234 do not appear to address this specific issue. From our understanding of the proposals within COM (2008) 40 labeling of country of origin or place of provenance of a food remains voluntary unless it is likely to mislead the consumer when it will be mandatory. Furthermore there is no mention of farm method labeling of multi-ingredient foods relevant to egg products, other dairy or meat ingredients.
The EU has taken the initial step to improve welfare conditions for egg-laying hens by banning the conventional cage, the EU must now introduce appropriate legislation to ensure EU farmers can compete effectively and ensure consumers have the means to easily identify higher welfare processed products.
I am interested to hear your views on this and the possibility of this being included in the forthcoming directive on the provision of food information to consumers.
Battery Hen Welfare Trust
Animals Asia also supports the call for production-method labelling for foods in the UK. In November 2009, Colin Breed MP (Liberal Democrat) laid down an early day motion in the UK parliament calling for such production-method labelling for all foodstuffs containing eggs in the UK. The details of this motion are below:
PRODUCTION METHOD LABELLING ON PROCESSED FOODS CONTAINING EGG AND EGG DERIVATIVES
That this House believes that all food products containing egg and egg derivatives produced in the EU and imported food products from non-EU countries should be labelled as to production method in line with current labelling regulations for packs of shell eggs; welcomes the progress being made to improve the welfare of egg laying hens through the support of EU Directive 99/74/EC banning the conventional battery cage from 2012 across the EU; notes with concern that from 2012 UK egg production is forecast to diminish and that this deficit could be met by processed food companies importing eggs from non-EU egg farmers using conventional battery cage production methods; and therefore calls on the Government to make it a requirement for all processed food products containing egg derivatives sold in the UK to be labelled with the production method to allow consumers to make an informed choice.
Animals Asia will continue to work alongside organisations such as the Battery Hen Welfare Trust to:
Improve consumer choice with regards the welfare standards of the animal based foods they purchase
Encourage consumers to purchase foods produced from animals which have been raised, transported and slaughtered to the highest standards of animal welfare
Encourage food producers to source animals from farms adopting higher standards of animal welfare.
Encourage politicians to adopt legislation which helps farmers to adopt higher animal welfare production methods.