Labelling change would put animal welfare at the heart of purchase, campaigners urge

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

 Should labelling indicate method of farming? ©iStock/Droits d'auteur  PatrickPoendl
Should labelling indicate method of farming? ©iStock/Droits d'auteur PatrickPoendl
UK animal rights campaigners are calling on the government to introduce a compulsory labelling system for meat and dairy products that would show how animals were farmed and reared.

Compassion in World Farming has launched a petition urging an update to the legislation governing food labelling in the country.

‘Left in the dark’

Compassion in World Farming stressed that there are currently no labelling laws to show the conditions under which animals reared for meat and dairy were farmed. The group insisted this means shoppers are “left in the dark”​ when it comes to the animal products they purchase.

In particular, Compassion in World Farming argued labels on intensively reared products often display “misleading”​ images of “rolling landscapes and happy animals​” or phrases such as “farm fresh​” and “natural​”, which lack clear definitions.

“This suggests that these animals have been farmed outdoors, when in reality they 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,”​ the organisation suggested.

“The truth about intensively farmed meat and dairy products isn’t advertised on food labels because it’s extremely hard to swallow,​” explained director of campaigns, Emma Slawinski.

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

Demand for high welfare products

Compassion in World Farming insisted that what it believes are “misleading”​ labelling practices undermine farmers who operate higher welfare standards.

The group pointed to the existing egg labelling scheme as an “excellent example”​ of how “effective and honest labelling​” can re-shape the market.

Since it was introduced in 2004, the proportion of hens in cage-free systems has more than doubled.

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

Warning on 'confusing oversimplification' 

Responding to the petition, the National Farmers Union (NFU) warned that any move to "pitch one system against another"​ could oversimplify the issue and, ultimately, confuse consumers. 

NFU chief food chain adviser Ruth Edge told FoodNavigator that the organisation has "consistently called for clear unambiguous labelling"​ to "enable shoppers to make informed purchasing decisions"​.

However, Edge continued: "We believe labelling which segregates each method of production runs the risk of over-simplifying the complex issue of animal welfare and causing confusion for shoppers. Animal husbandry – how animals are cared for – within each production system needs to be considered. Labelling should not be pitching one system against another.”

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