The label was developed in response to a ‘lack of transparency’ in the dairy industry, according to not-for-profits Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) Italy and Italian environmentalist association Legambiente.
As it stands, information found on products of animal origin ‘can easily be misleading’, they argue. It ‘generates confusion’ amongst consumers and ‘does not value virtuous breeders’.
However, labelling can work in other ways, they suggest. “Labelling…should work as a compass for consumers, guiding them when making purchases and facilitating informed choices that favour more animal-friendly farming systems and, in general, better conditions for them.”
To increase transparency on-pack, and ultimately encourage higher animal welfare standards across the dairy sector, the non-profits have developed a series of criteria for labelling that relate to different breeding methods.
From ‘organic’ to intensive’
The criteria are categorised according to the dairy cows’ ‘quality of life’ and their potential to ‘express natural behaviours’.
The resulting matrix categorises dairy cows’ living situations into six classifications, from organic (0) to intensive (5).
Organic (0) is the highest standard. The proposed label could be applied to products made from dairy ingredients produced in compliance with EU legislation on organic farming. Free-range (1) allows for shelter and access to pasture around the clock. Animals raised according to this standard are fed on a 60% grass diet, and more space is provided to cows when lactating.
Dairy cows raised according to free-range four months (2) are, as the name implies, offered access to pasture for at least 120 days of the year. Similarly to Level 1, these cows have more space when lactating. The next level down, enriched shelter (3), is the same as level 2, but does not offer access to pasture.
Fixed housing, tethered (4) offers cows access to pasture at least 120 days of the year, however the dairy cows are tied up under shelter. And finally, intensive (5), does not include any criteria exceeding the legal limits.
Urging action at EU level
The proposed labelling scheme is CIWF Italy and Legambiente’s second in a year, following its animal welfare label for the pig breeding sector announced in May 2020.
The European Commission has committed to revising its animal welfare legislation as part of its Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, and the not-for-profits hope to see CAP funds used for this purpose.
“Administrations should be enabled to develop a strategy that [structures] the various opportunities offered by the CAP in order to create a long-term path that includes…investments to improve animal welfare,” said Federica di Leonardo, Head of Media and External Relations at CIWF Italy.
“It would be unacceptable to use CAP funds once again to finance the status quo, that is, intensive farming systems – the unsustainability of which has now been widely established. This would be an operation in complete contradiction with the European Green Deal.”
Head of Animal Welfare at Legambiente, Antonino Morabito, believes that progress in animal welfare standards can be advanced by consumers making more informed choices.
“Putting citizens, thanks to labelling with farming methods, in a position to make [informed] choices for the ecological transition of Italian farming is urgent and a priority for the livestock sector, the protect the ‘Made in Italy’ [label], and thanks to effective animal welfare, to defend the health of citizens and the environment.”