FAWC Report On Farm Welfare: Introduction and Background

By the Farm Animal Welfare Council - This article is part of a report on labelling in relation to the welfare provenance of livestock products. This Report concentrates on the purpose and nature of labelling and its justification, whether such labelling should be voluntary or mandatory, and how best to convey relevant information.
calendar icon 26 June 2006
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FAWC Report On Farm Welfare - By the Farm Animal Welfare Council - This article is part one of a report on labelling in relation to the welfare provenance of livestock products. This Report concentrates on the purpose and nature of labelling and its justification, whether such labelling should be voluntary or mandatory, and how best to convey relevant information. Click here for the full PDF



    • FAWC’s philosophy of approach
    • Provenance of the “food we eat”
    • Remit and methodology

  • PART II: BACKGROUND Information and the theory of demand
    • Accessing information

    • European perspective
    • WTO rules
    • The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)

    • Animal welfare as a “process and production method” (PPM)
    • Animal welfare requirements on imports of animal products into the EU
    • Implementation of labelling
    • What animal welfare information should be provided?
    • Voluntary or mandatory labelling
    • The costs of labelling and of supplying information to consumers

    • Labelling for the benefit of the consumer
    • Labelling for the benefit of farm animals
    • Implications from the consumer’s standpoint
    • Implications from the food supplier’s standpoint
    • Implications for trade in animal products

    • Legal basis for labelling (the current national and international legislative position)
    • Role of UK Government departments
    • Practical problems of product labelling
    • Off label information
    • Welfare of animals from birth to point of slaughter
    • Verification of information
    • Role of farm assurance



1. The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) was established in 1979. Its terms of reference are to keep under review the welfare of farm animals on agricultural land, at market, in transit and at the place of slaughter; and to advise Great Britain’s Rural Affairs Ministers of any legislative or other changes that may be necessary. The Council has the freedom to consider any topic falling within this remit.

2. In an economy based on markets and individual choice, people cannot make purchasing decisions which maximise the benefit they might derive from their expenditure if they are not provided with adequate information to make a rational choice. Indeed markets cannot function efficiently without such information being available to both buyers and sellers. The provision of appropriate information can therefore help improve market efficiency; help consumers make informed choices and improve customer satisfaction; and help producers to better understand the market and their customers and so potentially benefit the whole of society.

3. This report examines the case for the provision of animal welfare information to consumers to help improve the welfare of animals. If consumers are provided with adequate information to enable them to act on their animal welfare preferences and purchase the animal welfare attributes that they desire, producers will have a powerful incentive to produce welfare friendly products and retailers to source them. The market may then encourage producers to adopt higher welfare production practices, thus improving the welfare of farm animals. We include all relevant information within the term ‘labelling’. Such information may be provided on actual labels affixed to food products, on supermarket shelves, menus and elsewhere close to where food is sold, in freely available leaflets and on web sites to which purchasers are directed, and so forth.

FAWC’s philosophy of approach

4. Animals are kept for various purposes and in return their needs should be provided for. Farm animals are recognised as sentient beings in the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Treaty of Rome. We have a moral obligation to each individual animal that we use. This obligation includes never causing certain serious harms to farm animals and, when deciding on our actions, endeavouring to balance any other harms against benefits to humans and other animals.

5. The achievement of high standards of animal welfare requires awareness of animal needs and both caring and careful efforts by all who are involved in the supervision of farmed animals. It requires skilled and conscientious stockmanship, responsible, planned and effective management, appropriate living conditions, and considerate handling, transport and humane slaughter. General guidelines as to what those who use animals should provide in order to avoid suffering and other harms, are contained in the five freedoms:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst, by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain health and vigour;

  • Freedom from discomfort, by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;

  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease, by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;

  • Freedom to express normal behaviour, by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind;

  • Freedom from fear and distress, by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

6. When assessing any welfare problem, it is necessary to consider both the extent of poor welfare, the intensity of suffering and its duration. Welfare assessment concerns individual animals. However, where there are indications of poor welfare, we consider that the more animals that are affected, the more serious is the problem.

7. In order to offer useful advice about the welfare of farm animals, FAWC takes account of scientific knowledge and the practical experience of those involved in the agricultural industry. A broad-ranging approach, taking into account all relevant views and attempting to balance human benefit with a concern to ensure that the animal’s interests remains to the fore, is used in the formulation of FAWC recommendations.

8. Knowledge based on scientific studies of the welfare of animals is increasing rapidly. The term ‘animal welfare’ is employed frequently in scientific and legal documents and in public statements. In our view, welfare encompasses the animal’s health and general physical condition, its psychological state and its ability to cope with any adverse effects of the environment in which it is kept.

Provenance of the ’food we eat’

9. FAWC believes that the same welfare standards or equivalents should apply not only to farm animals produced within Great Britain but also to those produced in any other country which are then used as a food or ingredients source in Great Britain. Recognition that the welfare standards under which animals are produced effectively becoming a quality characteristic of the livestock products that we consume is central to the recommendations of this report.

Remit and methodology

10. In 2004 the Farm Animal Welfare Council established a Working Group to examine the possibility and desirability of welfare labelling of animal-based products.

11. The Group carried out a public consultation in June 2004 and written evidence was received from 29 organisations. In addition, oral evidence was taken from invited experts from the livestock industry, academic and research institutions, assurance scheme providers, retailers, consumers and animal protection organisations. We are grateful to all who participated in the study and gave their time and expertise.


12. Consumers make purchasing decisions based on the information they have about the attributes or characteristics of alternative products that they might buy. The satisfaction that consumers derive from a food product depends on its different attributes such as taste, nutritional value, appearance, convenience and animal welfare provenance. This must be set against the price of the product and the time and money spent by the consumer to purchase it. The better, and more informed, the purchasing decision, the greater the benefit derived from the purchase.

13. In the context of farm animal welfare, an increasing number of consumers are looking to purchase products with an ‘animal welfare friendly’ provenance and wish to know the animal welfare credentials of the products that they buy.1 At the present time there is a scarcity of appropriate information for consumers concerning the animal welfare attributes of products and it is difficult for consumers to satisfy their preferences and choose products that contribute to better animal welfare in preference to those that do not. Indeed, there are examples of consumers being ill-informed about the welfare provenance of food products – for example, the case of table eggs labelled as ‘farm fresh’, which some consumers perceived to be synonymous with free range. In this example an EU Regulation (Article 10 1907/90) now requires the label ‘eggs from caged hens’ to help avoid confusion on the part of consumers. However, it remains the case that consumers wishing to purchase products with high animal welfare attributes face a difficult and time-consuming task in sourcing these products. Thus, the ‘transaction costs’ for such consumers are, in many cases, prohibitively high for them to locate and purchase the products that they would like.

14. For this reason, the true animal welfare preferences of consumers go largely unrecorded in the market place. This is despite the apparent concern that consumers have about animal welfare and their stated willingness to pay for products with high animal welfare attributes.2 This means that the welfare of farm animals is undervalued not only in markets (since it is not adequately reflected either by consumer purchases or by prices) but also in society generally.

15. By consumers we mean the people who make purchasing decisions in product markets, whether on behalf of themselves or others. A consumer can therefore be a single person, a household, restaurant operator, the buyer for a supermarket or caterer, the purchasing executive for a public sector body, import agent, etc. They all require sufficient and accurate information to ensure they can identify and select products that will meet their needs, preferences and objectives and so maximise the benefits they gain from ‘consumption’.

Information and the theory of demand

16. The modern theory of demand holds that the benefit (pleasure, satisfaction) gained from consumption is not derived from the products per se but from their particular characteristics. Consumers seek to acquire the collection of characteristics that will give maximum benefit for the money spent; buying products because the characteristics we want are assembled together and embedded in these forms. Additionally, adequate and appropriate information on the characteristics that are included in any defined bundle (‘a product’) is essential if consumption choices are to be effective.

Accessing information

17. Consumers need quite a lot of information if they are to make informed choices in their purchasing decisions. They clearly need to know what they do and don’t like, and to what extent. Much of this awareness comes from accumulated experience, but it also indicates a valid role for education, advertising and other forms of consumer information to enable people to discover, develop, refine and incorporate changes in their preferences over time. Secondly, they need to know the relevant characteristics of the products to obtain maximum benefit from their expenditure. And third, they obviously need to know the prices of the various products so they can balance the overall costs and benefits in making their consumption choices.

18. Product characteristics can be classified into three broad groups depending on how consumers get to know about them:

  • Search characteristics are those that are largely self-evident, i.e. ones that the consumer can discover, verify and validate against personal preferences before purchase.

  • Experience characteristics are mostly those that are not evident prior to purchase but are discovered during consumption. Information is then available to guide subsequent purchases.

  • Credence characteristics cover animal welfare origin, production method, biological safety, best-before dates, etc. They can only form the basis of choice if labelling in some form is used.

These are not watertight categories but they are useful as they indicate the areas where quality assurance and product labelling are helpful, desirable or absolutely essential in the pursuit of efficient consumption.

19. Such quality characteristics of food as its environmental provenance, location of origin and the animal welfare standards under which it was produced fall into the class of credence characteristics. Although many consumers may be indifferent to these particular attributes, to others they are real and important elements. They figure strongly in their preferences, and as such are a fundamental component of the satisfaction gained from consumption. For these preferences to be met it is essential, therefore, that information about those characteristics is evident prior to purchase, specifically attached to the food product, and in a form that is accessible, understandable, meaningful, accurate, certified and dependable. The absence of such information creates uncertainty in the consumer’s mind as to whether the product meets their preference.

1 European Commission, Special Eurobarometer 229 “Attitudes of consumers towards the welfare of farmed animals” June 2005.
2 As above.

Further Information

To read the full report, click here (PDF)

Source: Farm Animal Welfare Council - June 2006
© Crown copyright 2006

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