Animal Welfare Labelling: Voluntary versus Mandatory

16 Sep 2022
Labelling food products has become an increasingly popular request from European Union citizens. Other than eggs, information concerning animal welfare standards is only available on a voluntary basis. Yesterday the Intergroup discussed the various options available for an EU-harmonised system in order for consumers to understand and differentiate between the various claims proposed.

Denis Simonin, Head of the Animal Welfare sector, DG SANTE, informed the Intergroup that there is high demand from EU consumers for a labelling system. This has been demonstrated via the recent inception impact assessment carried out by the Commission, as well as the conclusions drawn by the EU Platform for Animal Welfare subgroup on Labelling. 

The main concerns identified are that EU consumers cannot make an informed choice, the quality of information is lacking, there is an uneven playing field caused by the proliferation of certain labels, the internal market is fragmented due to various different national labelling systems, and there is no fair competition with imports. 

Crucially, there are a range of solutions available to the aforementioned issues. MEPs shared their ideas as well as Claudia Salzborn, expert at the animal protection academy, Deutscher Tierschutzbund. This all came very timely as the Commission will be publishing a legislative proposal for a Labelling Regulation at the end of 2023, with the impact assessment study planned for the end of 2022. 

According to Ms Salzborn, An animal welfare label must be mandatory, label all production systems from minimum EU legislation to premium levels, must be multitiered, include all stages of production from breeding/rearing to transport and slaughter, should include all farmed species (including aquatic animals), and that the label should also apply to imported products.  

Using Germany’s State proposal for a mandatory method of production label as an example, Ms Salzborn showed the Intergroup how an EU-wide label could work. The German proposal has 5 tiers. The way in which animals are kept during their productive life is relevant, however transport and slaughter will not be included. Crucially, there will be a control system: farms will be registered with the competent authority and traceable along the chain using an identification number. 

Nonetheless, in assessing the German proposed system, Ms Salzborbn concludes that it does not go far enough and there is a strong need for the Commission to propose a more ambitious and harmonised labelling system.

MEP Anja Hazekamp (The Left, NL) was the first to intervene, to highlight the issue of whether intensive factory farming should be included in the labelling system at all. Consumers might see “one star” on a label and conclude that they are contributing to better animal welfare standards, when in actual fact that level represents the worst standards when it comes to the welfare of the animal. 

MEP Manuela Ripa (The Greens, DE) gave her input stating that the system needs to be comprehensive for consumers. She finds the numbering system of the German label misleading and believes there should be one single label. 

In conclusion the MEPs that were present believe that the system must be mandatory in order to be most effective. MEP Sarah Wiener (The Greens, AT) proposed to the Intergroup the establishment of an Intergroup Working Group on Labelling. More details will be sent to Members of the Intergroup via email. 

To finish the meeting the Intergroup Members approved the appointment of MEP Pascal Durand (Renew, FR) as a vice president of the Intergroup.  

There will be an Intergroup side event on the Responsible Care of Cats and Dogs on the 29 of September. You can register here. The next Intergroup Session will be on the 6 of October on The Case for a Fur Free Europe. More information is available here.