The proposed EU animal welfare label will provide farmers with a better opportunity to market their high welfare standards and provide greater transparency for costumers. However, the proposal is not without flaws! For it to be effective, the European Commission needs to commit to a mandatory Method of Production + label (MOP+) to guaranty a harmonised approach across the EU. MOP+ is the most transparent, progressive and fair labelling method. It gives clear and transparent messaging to consumers about how animals are reared and allows for a benchmarking platform amongst existing labels. It also allows for a progression on animal welfare standards by stimulating improvements on animal welfare and providing a full range of products with different levels of welfare to the consumers. On top of that, it provides farmers with a transparent way of demonstrating their achievements on animal welfare, allowing for a fair compensation of their efforts.
The conclusions foresee the labelling to start off as voluntary and state that the possibility of becoming mandatory should be evaluated at a later stage. They also state that a voluntary label represents a great risk to the impact of the label, since not only could the uptake be low but it would also be likely to only be adopted by producers already committed to higher animal welfare standards. The impact of a voluntary label on animal welfare would therefore be lower than of a mandatory label. This would not serve the purpose of providing full transparency to consumers and a fair level playing field for farmers and certainly would not serve the purpose of improving animal welfare across the EU. We call on the Commission to make the label mandatory for all producers and hope that this will happen in the near future.
The recommendations of the subgroup mention several important points, such as the fact that a label should protect the use of terms and claims, assuring that there is transparency for consumers. The label’s scope should include not only rearing but also transport and slaughter of animals, as many welfare concerns arise at those stages and not only fresh products, but also processed animal products should be included. A new label needs to harmonise with existing labels and help consumers to gain more clarity rather than causing confusion. While animal welfare often overlaps with sustainability criteria, it is important that, as far as labelling goes, it remains its own criteria to provide clarity to consumers. The subgroup also clearly states that an impactful label can only be achieved if all stakeholders contribute to it.
With dozens of different labelling schemes, the single market is becoming fragmented and consumers are confused. With a unified labelling system, the European Commission can counteract this confusion and will hopefully do so and put forward a proposal for an animal welfare label in the framework of the farm to fork strategy.