Know your labels
Food labelling should be simple but is often quite confusing. Across food products there are so many different codes, labels and standards that it can be difficult to know what the label means for animal welfare. Labels with terms such as “Farm fresh” have no relevance to welfare.
Here’s a quick guide of some of the things to look out for on your label:
Method of Production
Method of production labelling details in which type of system the animal was farmed. Currently the best example of method of production labelling is on eggs. Eggs must, by law, carry a stamp with a number indicating whether they have been produced in an organic, free-range, barn or cage system.
Where products are from higher welfare systems, such as free-range, it is usually written on the label, but standard intensive production is not. Organic meat, milk, eggs and their products are clearly labelled, as are meat and eggs from free-range systems. Produce from higher welfare indoor systems may be labelled more descriptively, such as ‘straw bedded’ (for pig products) or ‘with natural light and enrichment’ (for chicken products).
Country of Origin
Country of origin appears on the label of some food products. In the EU, it is a legal requirement to label beef and veal by the country where the animal was born, the country of fattening and the country of slaughter. During 2015 it will also become a legal requirement to label the country of fattening and the country of slaughter on fresh or frozen meat from pigs, sheep and poultry.
Although it would be more helpful if the label also had to show the country where the animal was born, it will indicate to some extent whether there has been any long distance live animal transport, the length of the food chain and the number of different countries involved.
Quality Assurance Standards
Minimum standards for the protection of laying hens, meat chickens, pigs, and calves are set by EU legislation and often improved upon within UK national legislation. A framework of quality assurance standards should ensure these minimum requirements are maintained, offer protection for those animals that are not covered by legislation (for example turkeys, ducks, dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep), and in some cases ensure higher standards for welfare are provided.
Below are some examples of Quality Assurance standards in the UK and what they mean for animal welfare.
The Red Tractor scheme, run by Assured Food Standards, certifies the food was produced in Britain and to certain quality standards for food safety, hygiene, and the environment, and reflects standard industry practice in the UK. Some of the standards benefit animal welfare by going beyond minimum legislation, such as prohibiting castration of meat pigs, a slightly reduced stocking density for meat chickens and the requirement for on-farm health and welfare monitoring. However in some circumstances the standards inadequately reflect the legislation, such as provision for manipulable material for pigs, and do not address welfare issues not reflected in legislation, such as confinement of sows during farrowing and permanent housing and tethering of dairy cows.
The Lion Mark
The Lion Mark appears on eggs and ensures they meet food safety criteria. However the standard generally only ensures minimum legislative requirements for animal welfare, so permits the use of ‘enriched cages’ for hens as well as barn and free-range systems. It guarantees the eggs were laid in Britain.
Both the Red tractor and Lion Mark schemes also offer free-range production, so their logos may appear on free-range meat and eggs.
Freedom Food is the RSPCA's labelling and assurance scheme dedicated to improving welfare standards for farm animals. The scheme covers both indoor and outdoor rearing systems and ensures that greater space, bedding and enrichment materials are provided. In addition, on-farm health and welfare monitoring is required and stunning and slaughter processes are specified. The standards offer a number of welfare benefits relative to standard industry practice and we recommend you look out for this logo when shopping or eating out.
Soil Association is one of the organic standards which offer many welfare benefits exceeding standard industry practice, including prohibiting confinement systems, ensuring bedding and/or environmental enrichment, ensuring free-range access with shade and shelter, specifying stunning and slaughter practices and monitoring welfare through outcome measures. Again, we recommend you look out for this logo when shopping or eating out.
Together with RSPCA, Soil Association and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), we are conducting a campaign calling for honest labelling of the method of production on all meat and dairy products across Europe.
We are asking for mandatory method of production labelling on all animal produce, including those from indoor intensively reared animals. In addition, we are asking for clear legal labelling definitions to differentiate between two tiers of commercially available indoor rearing systems - standard intensive and higher welfare.
Find out more
- Read our report of the full analysis of the main UK Quality assurance standards.
- Look out for our Good Farm Animal Welfare Award Winners.
Get your free Compassionate Food Guide
- Our Compassion Food Guide summarises what the assurance schemes, retailers and some of our award winners do for animal welfare. Download it today.
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