European consumers want EU-wide animal welfare labeling for meat products, according to Sabine Hartmann of international animal welfare organization Four Paws, speaking at the at the international agricultural exhibition EuroTier Poultry Forum. The call for standardized EU welfare product labeling has also been made by Germany’s Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt.
Hartmann continued that the Austria-based charity was looking for legislative rather than voluntary change, and that Four Paws was pushing its case internationally and at home, and hoped to repeat the success it had already achieved in Austria, which was the first country to phase out unenriched cages.
Four Paws has produced an entry-level labeling scheme, followed by a premium scheme, and is looking to change EU legislation and national rules. Welfare labeling must go beyond the requirements of many of the welfare systems currently in place. For some meat producers this would be reasonably easy to achieve, while for others it would mean significant change, she said.
Welfare labeling is not new, and Hartmann pointed to the UK’s Freedom Foods accreditation scheme, the longest-established scheme of its type in existence, and which has been adapted and implemented in a number of other countries. However, the current situation in Europe is highly fragmented, and with ever greater consumer mobility in the EU, it would make sense to have a standardized approach.
Four Paws is suggesting a two-tier approach with a standard label and a premium label. Some poultry products since 2012 have been produced under the scheme, with 55 chicken producers joining. In the case of poultry meat, the label denotes the use of slow growing breeds, minimum space requirements, and a minimum number of rear days, stress reduction, etc. Four Paws is currently working with 500 cattle producers to extend the scheme.
She added that society had become disconnected from agricultural production, and that meat products, and consequently animals, had become devalued by the drive for high performance and efficiency. At the same time, much food is wasted.
There needs to be a shift in how food is viewed, she argued, with greater emphasis placed on the quality of food and its nature of production. Consumers could then treat themselves to good food, rather than simply purchasing as much as possible at lowest possible cost, knowing that their meat had been produced to high, independently audited standards.