New draft standards for the Government's Healthier Food Mark misleadingly claim to promote "high standards of animal welfare" for public catering while in fact allowing public sector bodies to use battery eggs and factory farmed pork and chicken.
Around £2 billion is spent each year in the UK on food served in schools, hospitals, care homes, prisons and the armed forces. The Healthier Food Mark (HFM) is being developed by the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to promote the provision of healthy, sustainable food in the public sector.
Earlier drafts of the HFM prohibited the use of battery eggs. The new draft drops this requirement and gives the green light to the use of battery eggs by public bodies even though battery cages are banned EU-wide on animal welfare grounds from 1st January 2012. This change indicates that the HFM is prepared to let public sector bodies undermine British farmers by using battery eggs, imported from third countries, once the production of such eggs becomes illegal in the EU.
Chief Policy Advisor for Compassion in World Farming, Peter Stevenson, said: "Many supermarkets, food service operators and food manufacturers no longer sell or use cage eggs or have committed to ending the sale or use of such eggs before 2012. It is unacceptable for public sector standards to be lagging so far behind those of the commercial world".
In addition, while the Healthier Food Mark includes the promotion of "high standards of animal welfare" among its criteria, it states that this obligation can be fulfilled by procuring meat produced to Red Tractor standards. In July 2009 Compassion in World Farming submitted a detailed paper to the Department of Health and Defra showing why, on the basis of the scientific research in this field, the Red Tractor standards for pig meat and chicken meat cannot be regarded as providing good welfare. This evidence appears to have been totally ignored.
Compassion in World Farming's Peter Stevenson added: "It is unacceptable for the government to claim to promote high standards of animal welfare while permitting the use of eggs the production of which will shortly be illegal and pig meat and chicken meat which is often produced to poor animal welfare standards."