EU considers food labels to improve animal welfare
Jan 11, 2006
By Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European consumers who prefer meat and dairy products from humanely treated animals may soon be able to buy farm produce stamped with an EU "welfare" label.

Noting a "seismic shift" in consumer opinion towards promoting animal welfare rather than merely preventing cruelty and avoidable suffering, the European Commission says it is keen to see more farm products obtained using high welfare standards.

One way to achieve this, it says in a five-year plan to improve treatment of animals, would be to create a label to help consumers choose between "minimum" and "higher" welfare standards for the meat, milk or eggs that they want to buy.

"The establishment of an EU label for animal welfare is an option to be explored in the near future which could promote products elaborated under high welfare standards," it said.

"There has been a clear shift of public attitudes towards animals over recent decades and how animals are considered in society," said the plan, obtained by Reuters.

Retailers and producers were increasingly recognising animal welfare as a key element of product image and quality, it said.

EU marketing standards for eggs and poultry meat already include some rules on animal welfare labelling. In 2005, the Commission called for tighter hygiene and welfare rules for the billions of chickens slaughtered in the EU each year for their meat, often in packed and poor conditions.

NEGATIVE PUBLIC VIEWS

The Commission will publish its animal welfare plan next week and present it to EU agriculture ministers on January 23. It sets out a series of proposed monitoring reports and ideas for draft laws at various stages between 2006 and 2010.

It calls for the EU to look at alternatives to animal testing, particularly for the cosmetics industry, how to control the trade in dog and cat fur and improvements in satellite navigation systems to monitor vehicles transporting animals long distances across the 25-nation region.

It aims to respond to EU public opinion, since a majority of European citizens believe the welfare of farm animals -- particularly cattle, pigs and poultry -- to be very poor.

Last month, the Commission published the results of a online survey of 40,000 respondents, most of whom said the bloc needed to do a lot more to improve the welfare of farm animals.

Nearly 80 percent of people supported better food labelling about the conditions in which animals are reared, while 67 percent said a better knowledge of farming practices would influence their decisions when they bought food.

Apart from general laws on animal and farm welfare, the EU only has specific legislation on veal, sows and laying hens. The plan also suggests that new rules are needed for other species, like beef and dairy cattle, sheep, turkeys and ducks.