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Event-labelling-matters-6Strasbourg – During its 309th session the Intergroup on Animal Welfare discussed the need to improve information to consumers on animal products. The average EU consumer does not know how or where the majority of the animal products they buy were produced. This lack of information and awareness has consequences for animal welfare, restricting the ability of consumers to decipher between products that meet higher animal welfare standards and those that do little to respect animal sentience.

ffinlo Costain, European Manager of Labelling Matters, asked the Animal Welfare Intergroup to support mandatory method of production labelling of poultry meat, and a strong EU animal welfare policy from 2016 onward with mandatory method of production labelling at its core.  He said; “Mandatory labelling is the best way to deliver clear, objective and comparable information to consumers in order that they can help the EU meet its priority of market-driven improvements in farm animal welfare.”

He referred to new research into Europe labels, which shows genuine confusion among EU consumers.  Based on the label alone, most consumers simply cannot tell which farm system their meat and dairy products come from, and they are likely to misinterpret the method of production, which ranges from intensively reared to extensively reared products such as free range and organic products. Mandatory method of production labelling will help correct existing market distortions, empowering consumers to drive standards in farm animal welfare.

ffinlo said that evidence shows that method of production labelling works and cited the successful EU shell egg labelling scheme, which has been in place since 2004. He stated; “Mandatory egg labelling has improved information to consumers whilst delivering significant growth in the higher welfare shell egg sector – even throughout the economic crisis. It is also popular with consumers, producers and retailers,”

“Mandatory labelling should be extended to other animal products, such as poultry meat especially as poultry meat marketing standards are currently being reviewed by the Commission. In fact, research shows that extending method of production labelling from shell eggs to all meat and dairy products is supported by more than three-quarters of EU consumers,” he concluded.

As the Intergroup discussion showed, improved labelling can aid enforcement of regulation, enhance growth, and provide consumers with the information necessary to drive animal welfare improvements from the marketplace. These results have been proved not only for shell eggs throughout the EU, but also for other industry-wide sectors, like the pig meat sector in the UK, where labelling systems underpinned by robust outcome-based assessments have delivered growth in the higher value/higher welfare sector, leading to guaranteed market place differentiation and improved profitability for producers. In all these instances, better regulation, with labelling as the critical driver, is seen by producers as an opportunity to enhance growth.

Renate Sommer, newly elected Vice-Chair of the Intergroup, and European Parliament Rapporteur on the regulation on food information to consumers, explained the difficulties that appeared during the negotiations with the council on animal welfare related food labelling decisions of the EP in order to find a balanced approach. Whereas the mandatory labelling origin of fresh meat becomes reality this year, further origin labelling improvements are in the Commission’s competence.  Already in force is for example the mandatory indication of the plant source of vegetable oils. “This allows consumers to decide against palm oil to protect the rain forest as living space for the endangered orang-utan population. And people who want to avoid food ingredients of animal origin can soon rely on EU-wide criteria for the labelling of such products. We are waiting for the commission to enact implementing rules regarding such labelling provisions,” she said.

Responding to the presentations, Janusz Wojciechowski MEP, President of the Intergroup, commented: “The time for effective and honest labelling that improves information to consumers has come. A lack of information is indeed both misleading and dishonest when it comes to empowering consumers to make more educated choices. Clear, comparable consumer information would lead to the expansion of higher welfare markets, meaning that better welfare is delivered for more farm animals.” 

Mr Wojciechowski concluded “The Parliament must now take the lead for proposing positive ways forward that can both improve animal welfare whilst creating sustainable growth and jobs.”

He then called on the members of the Intergroup to “Start by supporting mandatory poultry meat labelling in the Commission’s current marketing review.  Then, to aid delivery of the EU Animal Welfare Strategy 2012-15, an impact assessment should be commissioned on method of production labelling.  The Commission should also start developing reserved marketing terms for other farm animal species, and Intergroup will develop a small working group of MEPs, to help bring this issue to the attention of the Commission and Council.”

 

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