Proposals for mandatory dedicated animal welfare labels, based on methods of production for poultry and pig products in the UK, have been dropped.
In a significant government U-turn, officials at Defra signalled that while public support improved welfare labelling, it did not consider the time was right to consult on proposals “to reform labelling for animal welfare”.
The decision comes within days of the German Bundestag’s decision to introduce mandatory methods of production labelling for meat and dairy productions. Labelling in Germany will be introduced first for pork products and then extended.
Federal Minister Cem Ozdemir: “After years of standstill, we are giving our farmers a perspective by enabling them to earn good money with more animal welfare. I want good meat to continue to come from Germany in the future. Our husbandry labelling is a prerequisite for this – and at the same time a huge step towards more transparency when shopping, because consumers can give the market a decisive direction towards more animal-friendly husbandry.”
But in the UK, the only mandatory labelling has been in the shell egg sector, which has existed since 2004. The labelling was so successful that the British Egg Industry Council called on the government to extend mandatory labelling to products with eggs as the main ingredients, such as quiches and egg sandwiches.
Voluntary labelling has been taking place in the pig sector, promoting ‘outdoor-bred’, ‘free range’ and ‘organic’. Labelling has also been popular with customers in the UK, with 83% of customers wanting to see labelling extended to all meat and dairy products.
The decision by Defra has split the farming sector. Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association, said the abandonment of the consultation was another nail in the coffin of its animal welfare policy agenda.
Emma Slawinski, director of policy, prevention, and campaign at the RSPCA, said she was deeply disappointed by the decision, adding there was very little information available to consumers to show them how farm animals have been reared.
But other industry bodies, including the British Poultry Council, have in the past criticised the consultation. In a joint letter with groups including the National Farmers’ Union and British Meat Processors Association, they said: “Mandatory method of production labelling will not deliver continual improvement of farm animal health, as the method of production is not the key determinant of animal welfare.”