Beware of food labels that tell you nothing!
A shopper standing in front of the meat and dairy section of the grocery store can be overwhelmed by confusing and misleading labels. Stickers and labels like ‘all-natural’ and ‘farm fresh’ give the impression animals are treated well on farms, but in reality, these terms are completely meaningless.
All Natural and 100% Natural
These terms have no legal definition. For example, ‘all-natural’ products can come from factory farms where mother pigs spend much of their lives in cages so small they cannot even turn around. Chicken labelled as ‘all-natural’ can come from factory farms where the animals have been selectively bred to grow so rapidly that their legs become painfully crippled from the weight of their bodies.
People might assume that a butcher would only choose the best, high welfare meat for their customers. This label also has no legal definition, so is completely meaningless when put onto a package of meat.
Just like ‘all-natural’, the label ‘farm fresh’ simply has no legal definition, meaning it can be widely used on all kinds of products. ‘Farm fresh’ might sound reassuring but it can be found on factory farmed meat and dairy products.
As well as the minefield of having no mandatory welfare information on products, and the confusion of the labels above which have no meaning, there is a third market-distorting factor at play. Some products carry packaging which is designed to create an impression of high welfare farming in the consumers mind; images of green fields, trees, outdoor scenes and so on. At best this packaging gives an unclear impression; if there is no information about how the animal was farmed, it is not possible for the consumer to understand whether this image has meaning. At worst it is misleading, presenting a factory farmed product, for example from an animal confined indoors throughout their lives, as from a higher welfare outdoor system.
Dossier of unclear labels
We have popped to the supermarket and collected a brief snapshot of some labels we believe are unclear.
Company: Dairylea / Mondelēz International Inc.
Product type: Cheese
The image is suggestive of an outdoor environment, and access to grazing. Mondelez has no specific requirements for grazing access and there is no available information on the Dairylea website on welfare standards. Kraft, the previous owner of Dairylea, also had no specific requirement for pasture access.
Company: Bernard Matthews
Product type: Turkey breast
This image shows grass and is suggestive of an outdoor environment. It could leave a consumer unclear as to how the product was produced.
Company: Richmond (Kerry Group)
Product type: Pork sausages
This image shows grass and trees and is suggestive of an outdoor environment. It could leave a consumer unclear as to how the product was produced.
We have worked with and consulted a variety of experts to develop our proposed method of production labelling scheme. These labels would be a simple way to give the shopper an immediate idea of the farming system used to produce meat and dairy products. Every meat or dairy product would have to carry one of the labels below as a minimum, ensuring that every shopper can make an informed choice. Assurance scheme labels, like RSPCA Assured, would provide valuable information in addition to the method of production, giving a fuller picture of the life of the animal.
Have a look at our infographic and explore the different type of labels we are proposing and what they mean.
In a nutshell: we propose a six tier labelling scheme. This must have clear descriptions of the farming system and, ideally, also a number to help consumers understand the different systems.
Intensive Indoors This label is for products from animals raised in systems which only meet legislative minimum requirements, or go slightly beyond but not enough to meet the requirements of Improved Indoor. Compassion would describe these animals as being factory farmed. They are likely to live in barren conditions, suffer mutilations and overcrowding – and never go outside.
Improved Indoors This label is for products from animals kept in indoor systems, with some improvements. For example they will have slightly more room to move around, better bedding and some enrichment to alleviate boredom in their otherwise sterile environment. This system is a step up from Intensive Indoors, but still is wholly indoors and does not enable the animal to perform all their natural behaviors.
Partially outdoors This label is for animals who live outdoors for part of the year, or part of their life, but not long enough to merit a Free Range label. Outdoor access allows animals to perform more natural behavior, and enjoy better health. For example, studies show the dairy cows with access to grazing can have lower instances of mastitis and lameness.
Free Range This is an existing label used widely across many types of product. The main criteria for this label is that animals have access to the outdoors. It also ensures amenities like roosts for chickens, or straw bedding for pigs.
Organic This is an existing label with a legal definition. It has several requirements which must be met before a farm and its produce can be officially deemed 'organic.' Meeting these government-mandated standards will usually provide a higher quality of life for the animal and lower environmental impacts.
Pasture Fed This is for animals who are raised in Free Range or Organic systems and fed on a natural diet not including grain.
In our scheme, the existing Free Range and Organic labels, which are defined in law, would continue to be used. Our highest ‘tier’ is Pasture Fed and only applies to herbivores. This is for animals who are raised in Free Range or Organic systems AND fed on a natural diet not including grain.
What does this mean for the animals?
Take a look at the infographic below to see what each tier means for different species. You can view a full sized version here.
- Join us in calling on the Government to introduce honest labelling for all meat and dairy products
- Find out more about the background to the Honest Labelling campaign
- Read our guide to existing voluntary labelling and assurance schemes
- Find our more about Labelling Matters, our collaboration with leading animal welfare organisations to drive method of production labelling