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The unsavoury truth behind many meat and dairy labels

News Section Icon Published 06/08/2018

A petition launching today, by leading farm animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming, is calling on the UK government to introduce compulsory method of production labelling on meat and dairy products, under the new ‘gold standard labelling scheme’ proposed by DEFRA.

There are currently no labelling laws in place to show how animals farmed for meat and dairy were reared. This means that shoppers are often left in the dark when purchasing these products. They could be buying intensively farmed meat and dairy products without realising it.

Labels on intensively reared products frequently display misleading images of rolling landscapes and happy animals, suggesting animals have been farmed outdoors, when in reality the livestock are crammed into barren cages, kept indoors all their lives, or kept in such close confinement, that they are unable to express their natural behaviours. Generic, meaningless phrases are brandished across numerous factory farmed food packets, such as ‘farm fresh’ and ‘natural’, when in fact more appropriate slogans would be ‘raised in confinement’ or ‘grown quickly, without access to the outdoors’. This undermines farmers who genuinely operate to high animal welfare standards.

“The truth about intensively farmed meat and dairy products isn’t advertised on food labels because it’s extremely hard to swallow,” explained Bronwen Reinhardt, Honest Labelling Campaign Manager at Compassion in World Farming. “More than 70% of the animals raised in the UK each year are factory farmed but these inhumane farming practices are hidden behind closed doors, out of public view.

“When you think about it, it’s obvious. The truth about factory farming isn’t advertised on food labels because it’s an unsavoury one.”

The existing egg labelling scheme is an excellent example of how effective and honest labelling can re-shape the market. Producers and retailers are legally required to label eggs, stating the farming system used to produce them.  Eggs are labelled as 'eggs from caged hens', 'barn eggs', 'free range' or ‘organic’. Since it was introduced in 2004, the proportion of hens in cage-free systems has more than doubled.

When consumers know which farm system has been used to produce their eggs, many opt for higher welfare. In turn, this increases the demand for higher welfare eggs, helping to drive welfare improvements for millions of egg-laying hens.

“We need a clear labelling law, like that which currently exists for eggs, extended to all meat and dairy products,” Bronwen continued. “This would allow animal welfare to be part of consumers’ shopping decisions.”

To support the Compassion’s campaign please visit www.ciwf.org.uk/honest-labelling