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Defra drops plans to consult on compulsory animal welfare labelling

19th Jul 2023 / By Alistair Driver

Defra has dropped plans to consult on proposals to introduce compulsory animal welfare labelling on food products, following heavy criticism from across the industry.

Outdoor pigsUnder the plans, new regulations would have required products, initially pork, poultry and eggs, to be categorised in different tiers, linked to method of production.

Defra had claimed the move would give consumers a clearer indication of how pork and other products are produced and that it could help drive improvements in welfare standards. It said the proposals ‘seek to simplify and clarify existing welfare labels’.

However, the move was strongly opposed by industry bodies, including the NPA. In a letter to Defra Ministers earlier this year, a coalition – including the NFU, NPA, British Meat Processors Association, the Food and Drink Federation, Dairy UK and the British Poultry Council – argued that the proposals would add significant additional costs to the food chain without delivering further clarity for consumers.

“Mandatory method of production labelling will not deliver continual improvement of farm animal health, as method of production is not the key determinant of animal welfare,” the letter stated. “The science is clear that attention to detail and professional management of our flocks and herds is a greater determinant of animal welfare, but this is much more difficult to translate into a clear and useful consumer labelling framework.”

“Labelling should be voluntary and follow compulsory rules when certain terms are used to ensure accuracy and consistency.”

Similar criticisms were levelled by members of the NPA’s Pig Industry Group (PIG) when Defra officials presented their plans earlier this year.

The Department had been planning to launch a formal consultation in the spring, but this failed to materialise and, this week officials informed industry stakeholders that the Department does not believe it is the right time to launch the consultation.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are proud to have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world.

“We will continue to work with farmers and supermarkets to improve food information for consumers and support the production of healthier, higher welfare animals through our Animal Health and Welfare Pathway.”

Defra ran a call for evidence in 2021 to gather data on the impacts of different types of labelling reforms for animal welfare, which received over 1,600 responses. It said the evidence gained suggested that there is public appetite for improved welfare labelling and made it clear it still wants to improve transparency and provide the industry with a ‘level playing field’ to promote higher welfare products. 

Future work will include looking at how welfare labelling could align with wider labelling proposals, such as eco-labelling.

NPA reaction

NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson welcomed the decision not to issue the consultation. “We as an organisation argued strongly behind the scenes that compulsory welfare labelling would be a blunt tool that adds costs across the chain, while doing nothing to educate consumers about real welfare on farms.

“Our PIG made it very clear to Defra that you cannot equate welfare with method of production and that the proposed system would likely confuse, rather than inform.

“We welcome the fact that Defra has listened to us and others throughout the supply chain on this and will continue to work with them to ensure any future moves to increase transparency in the pork supply chain are proportionate and effective.”