Earlier this month the Danish government revealed the design of its voluntary three-tier animal welfare logo, initially applicable to pigs only but with plans to eventually extend it to other animals.
To achieve one heart, farmers must abide by certain rules including: not cutting pigs’ tails off; giving pigs fresh straw every day for nesting; and not transporting pigs for more than eight hours prior to slaughter. For three hearts, farmers must wean piglets at 28 days and provide free-range farrowing areas.
The German government is also believed to be developing its own voluntary logo. Although plans have not yet been officially announced, it has already been welcomed by the German Federation for Animal Protection (Deutscher Tierschutzbund).
“A three-stage model would be our recommendation,” said its president, Thomas Schröder. “Society demands more animal protection and a form of [guidance] and transparency on the shelf. The time is over-ripe for a state label.”
More welfare for your money
So are these schemes simply a case of giving consumers more options? After all, they can already choose between conventionally-produced food, non-GMO or organic.
The Danish environmental and food minister Esben Lunde Larsen think so. “[Consumers] have the opportunity to support animal welfare at a level that suits their preferences and budgets,” he said at the logo's launch. “Whether consumers choose pork with one, two or three hearts, they will have the opportunity to see how much more welfare they get for the money.”
The three levels meet a number of basic requirements which go beyond Danish and European legislation. “This means that even products with a single heart is going to be produced with a higher level of animal welfare than conventional products,” said a statement by the ministry.
The (bare) legal minimum?
But sometimes the legal minimum is not always enough – or at least it’s not always enforced.
This issue was raised by French MEP Jean-Paul Denanot last week in a written question to the Commission. Denanot was responding to video footage leaked by an employee of an abattoir in Limoges, central France, in which live calf foetuses were thrown into a rubbish bin.
Not only are such practices “appalling” and “barbaric” but they would “seem to be widespread in France”, and are also damaging to farmers and all animal production sectors. Denanot asked whether the Commission planned on rigorously applying the laws already in place.
Strengthening false impressions
Consumer watchdog FoodWatch firmly believes it’s the legal minimum that needs to change, and it opposes any voluntary labels, either state- or industry-led.
Director of media Martin Rücker told us: “We consider voluntary labels counterproductive, even if they improve the conditions for a few animals a little. Each launch of a new voluntary label strengthens the false impression that the problems are solved, [and so] responsible politicians, farming associations, food industry and other stakeholders are not willing to discuss how to achieve the main goal, for which, of course, a long road needs to be taken.
“The only track to take is legal requirements which are mandatory for all animal keepers in the EU, and outside the EU if those products should be sold within the EU."
The German Federation for Animal Protection also wants to stricter legal requirements, but it believes a voluntary logo can kickstart legislation. “A welfare system also gives the signal that improvements in animal protection are necessary. And we assume that the legal standard might follow,” its president told us.
But for stricter standards to happen across the board, there needs to be some fundamental changes to our food chain.
Consumers' taste for eating cheap meat twice a day every day or retailers competing with each other to sell milk for less than water, have a direct effect on the conditions in which farmers keep their animals.
“Trade and discounters constantly interfere with new low-cost offers for animal products. Farmers investing in better conditions for animals have to be adequately rewarded [and] trade must take on its ethical responsibility and dispense with cheap offers, since every price reduction reduces the animal protection level. And also consumers must be willing to pay more for products produced under better animal protection standards.”
"We therefore demand a change of the system and a sustainable strategy - away from low-cost production towards more animal protection," Schröder added.