FAWC Report On Farm Welfare: The Case For Welfare Labelling

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 2 June 2006
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FAWC Report On Farm Welfare - By the Farm Animal Welfare Council - This article is part two 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.


  1. Individual consumers generally have no means of independently verifying claims made on food labels, or elsewhere, about food production methods. Consumers are increasingly aware of and concerned about many of the ethical issues associated with the welfare of food animals, but are at present unable to discern the welfare standard of the food they purchase. For example, in the case of non-food products, the “CE” mark stands for “Conformité Européenne” or “European Conformity”. It is the manufacturer’s declaration that the product carrying the mark complies with all the essential European requirements about health, safety and environmental protection, and means that the product may be legally placed on the European market.

  2. We consider that consumers should receive better information about the animal welfare provenance of products through labelling supported by the use of leaflets, and help lines and through manufacturers’ and retailers’ websites. Failure to provide such information could be interpreted by consumers as a failure of those involved in the food supply chain to address the ethical implications of the food industry’s activities. While we are predominantly concerned with food products our arguments apply to all farm animal products, for example leather, feathers and the products of rendering. European perspective

  3. We note the European Commission (EC) has stated its intention to prepare a report on the possible introduction of a specific harmonised mandatory labelling regime at EU level for chicken meat, meat products and preparations based on compliance with animal welfare standards. The report will cover possible socio-economic implications, effects on the EU’s economic partners and compliance of such a labelling regime with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. Legislative proposals will also be prepared taking account of the experience gained by Member States in applying voluntary labelling schemes. This report is due to be submitted to the European Parliament and to the Council no later than two years from the date of adoption of the Broiler Directive. The Commission’s Action Plan on animal welfare, published in January 2006, provides clear indication that welfare labelling is on the European agenda.

  4. The EU has progressively adopted a body of legislation on the protection of animals covering farming, transport and slaughter. Welfare standards have also been developed by international bodies such as the Council of Europe and the OIE (Office International des Epizooties or the World Organisation for Animal Health). Other countries have also developed legislation in this area. However, there is a growing concern that trade liberalisation will serve to undermine EU welfare objectives by increasing the influx of imports produced to lower welfare standards. A study carried out by the European Commission in 2002 looked at comparable animal welfare standards in third countries on the basis of existing welfare legislation in those countries. If the extent of welfare legislation is taken as a proxy for the country’s animal welfare level (without considering the content of the legislation, level of enforcement or the resultant level of welfare in those countries) the study broadly implied that the EU has higher standards than third countries.

  5. The EC proposal on animal welfare and trade in agriculture (2000) viewed animal welfare as being at the crossroads of economic, ethical, animal health, public health, food production and legal issues. Whilst the existing WTO Agreements provide a basis on which some of the issues related to animal welfare can be discussed, the EU has pressed for animal welfare to be addressed globally in a consistent manner within the WTO framework.

  6. Within this context appropriate labelling, compulsory or voluntary, could facilitate the wish of consumers to make an informed choice as regards the animal welfare provenance of food products, whether domestically produced or imported. This is provided for under Article 2.2 of the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Given the interrelationship between animal welfare measures and the international trade in agriculture and food products of animal origin the EU considers that animal welfare is best addressed in the negotiation on agriculture within the framework of the TBT.

    WTO rules

  7. The coverage of the WTO’s TBT agreement is limited to product characteristics and their related process and production methods (PPMs). Under internationally agreed rules, discrimination between imported products would be allowed in the case of product-related PPM requirements to fulfil legitimate environmental or health and safety objectives. The current position is that the WTO has not explicitly recognised animal welfare as a legitimate concern, i.e. a cause for restricting trade. The EC has placed the issue on the agenda for negotiation under the Doha Round of trade negotiations but there has been little recent discussion. The impact of labelling on WTO rules and principles has been analysed in a report by the Agricultural Economics Research Institute in the Netherlands.3 This analysis suggests that labelling can be seen as discriminating between different types of traded products, whether between meat produced in the EU and elsewhere, or meat produced in non-EU countries - and therefore subject to a challenge in the WTO’s disputes settlement procedure. It is considered that the strongest defence against such a challenge would be that the measure is necessary to protect public morals and animal health, and so justified under Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which allows, under certain conditions, measures to deviate from the general principles of the GATT. It is also considered that labelling has less chance of leading to a challenge, as well as a significant chance of being upheld in a dispute settlement procedure.

    The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)

  8. The OIE is establishing guidelines on international welfare standards, which is a significant development that has been well received by EU member states, the EC, WTO officials, developing countries, producers and animal welfare groups. There is a strong consensus regarding the benefits of recognising high animal welfare standards and communicating them to consumers.

  9. The OIE has been accepted under the WTO agreements as the body that sets guidelines on veterinary issues in global trade. At its plenary meeting in May 2005, the 167 members of the OIE adopted guidelines on sea and air transport of animals, on slaughter of animals for human consumption, and on killing animals for disease control. This represents an important achievement for animal welfare: an agreement on global animal transport and slaughter standards. The provision of comprehensive global standards for the first time on animal welfare by OIE will have an immediate impact on WTO law. The more complex issues of livestock housing and management are next on the OIE priority list.

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Source: Farm Animal Welfare Council - June 2006
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