Consumers are increasingly interested in information on how animals are treated on farms and in livestock facilities. While voluntary welfare labelling schemes exist, there is no harmonised system of animal welfare standards for labelling purposes and consumers are unable to understand and differentiate the welfare standards promoted under these schemes. A knock-on effect of this is that very few products provide information to the consumer on welfare standards and there is very little motivation for more producers to improve animal welfare and market their products accordingly.
Current EU approach to animal welfare labelling
Currenty, there is only one EU-wide system of compulsory labelling on animal welfare - for table eggs. The system for eggs is based on the EU legislation for laying hens defining different production methods (cages, free range, barn, etc.). Such classification of production methods does not exist for other types of animal production in the EU.
The strategy on animal welfare does not plan to extend beyond eggs the compulsory labelling on animal welfare.
Instead, the strategy is oriented towards considering the development of an instrument to better inform consumers and companies on animal welfare friendly products that could be used by both producers and retailers, ensuring a transparency to consumers without overflowing them with information on the label.
Report launching debate on animal welfare labelling
In the report adopted in 2009, Commission outlined a series of options for animal welfare labelling. The overall goal of policy in this area is to make it easier for consumers to identify and choose welfare-friendly products, and thereby give an economic incentive to producers to improve the welfare of animals. The report also presented options for the possible establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals.
The report was based on the Feasibility study which assesed the possible options:
Feasibility Study - Part 1: Animal Welfare Labelling (January 2009)
Feasibility Study - Part 2: Community Reference Centre (January 2009)
Background - previous steps
Community Action Plan for Animal Welfare 2006-2010
Community Action Plan for Animal Welfare 2006-2010 - one of the main areas of action described in this plain was to involve the general public and enable consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions. The Action Plan envisaged the creation of an Animal Welfare Reference Centre, which could serve as a coordinating body for the different initiatives related to animal welfare labelling (standardisation/certification of welfare indicators, auditing schemes, databases related to existing certified labels). The Centre should also facilitate the preparation of relevant socio-economic studies and impact assessments.
Council Conclusions 2007
In 2007 the Council adopted Council Conclusions inviting the Commission to assess further the issue of animal welfare labelling in all its aspects, and to submit a report to the Council in order to allow an in-depth debate on the subject.
UK Farm Animal Welfare Council report 2006
The 2006 Report by The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) in the UK examined the case for the provision of animal welfare information to consumers to help improve the welfare of animals. These discussions highlighted that any animal welfare labelling needs to be based on science. Therefore the Action Plan proposed to link the labelling to the use of standardised animal welfare indicators, recognised both in the EU and internationally.
Animal welfare indicators 2004-2009
Such animal welfare indicators were being developed by the EU funded research project "Welfare Quality". The project focused on the integration of animal welfare in the food quality chain, and addressed public concern by improved welfare and transparent quality. The project aimed to:
accommodate societal concerns and market demand;
develop reliable on-farm monitoring systems, product information systems, and practical species-specific strategies to improve animal welfare including welfare indicators;
focus on three main species and their products: cattle (beef and dairy), pigs, and poultry (broiler chickens and laying hens).
Conference "Animal Welfare – Improving by Labelling?", 2007
During the conference the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) presented an exploratory opinion on this issue. The Conference concluded that labelling could, under certain conditions contribute to improving animal welfare.