EU Welfare Labelling: Good, Bad or a Waste of Time?

UK - Can Britain’s high-welfare pig producers expect help from Brussels... or must they rely on Jamie Oliver to help them recoup their extra costs of production?
calendar icon 4 February 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

It is expected we will know the answer to this question by summer, because the European Commission’s directorate general for Health and Consumer Affairs is currently preparing a communication on animal welfare labelling.

At this stage, it is unclear whether Brussels will come up with a basic scheme that merely indicates European minimum standards, or something more grandiose involving higher welfare standards — as applies in British pig production for example.

Perhaps producers should not expect too much, because the Commission’s over-arching aim will be to give European producers an advantage over third country producers.

Brussels might not wish to be the architect of a scheme that gives one European country — such as Britain — an immediate marketing advantage over another European country—such as Denmark.

Here are some of the ideas that have been floated so far and that might be included in the Brussels communication.

  • A mandatory labelling scheme showing that products meet the European Union’s minimum welfare standards.

  • And/or a higher, voluntary scheme for producers who exceed minimum European standards.

  • And/or a grading system for higher welfare production, where stars are used to indicate the level of welfare.

This latter idea was well received when it was proposed at a conference on the subject March 2007. It was at the same conference that former Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou suggested a two-tier labelling scheme—standard and higher.

One fear is that Brussels will propose a compulsory logo denoting minimum European welfare standards, and retailers could use this to push other, more deserving logos off packs of meat. If this happened, far from improving animal welfare, the Commission could reduce it.

If that happened, it would not be the first time Brussels law-makers have fallen foul of Hutber's Law ("Improvement means deterioration").

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