Food Law News - EU - 2009

Council Minutes, 16 December 2009

ANIMAL WELFARE - Animal welfare labelling scheme & Establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the Protection and Welfare of Animals

The following is an extract from the minutes of the Council meeting (Agriculture and Fisheries) held in Brussels on 14-16 December 2009

The Council took note of the presentation by the Commission of its report on options for animal welfare labelling and the establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals ( 15307/09 ).

While one Member State requested that further work is carried out on the basis of this report, other Member States recalled the need to avoid extra burden and/or to ensure that distortion of competition with third countries is avoided.

Background information:

The debate on how to improve the communication to consumers regarding animal welfare in livestock production has been running in the EU for several years.

The conference : "Animal Welfare – Improving by Labelling?" organised in Brussels on 28 March 2007 by the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Commission and the German Presidency enabled a first broad discussion to take place with representatives of all stakeholder groups.

The report identifies various issues concerning animal welfare labelling and communication, and the possible establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals, based on the results of an external study provided to the Commission in January 2009.

Following that conference the Council adopted in May 2007 conclusions on animal welfare labelling ( 9151/07 ), inviting the Commission to assess further the issue of animal welfare labelling and to submit a report to the Council in order to allow an in-depth debate on the issue.

The impact assessment accompanying the report does not conclude on any definitive option neither for animal welfare labelling nor for the possible establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals. In relation to welfare labelling , it does however identify the legislative and non-legislative options that are considered the most feasible at this stage (harmonised requirements for voluntary animal welfare claims and/or a Community animal welfare label).

Currently there is no EU legislation on specific animal welfare labelling of products of animal origin. As a consequence there are no harmonized requirements for labelling of animal welfare standards in the EU. However, a number of private schemes have emerged in recent years . Among these can be mentioned:

Freedom Food (UK)

Freedom Food is a farm assurance and food labelling scheme set up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in 1994 to improve farm animal welfare and to address growing consumer demand for food produced to higher animal welfare standards.

For further information:

Label Rouge (France)

Label Rouge is a French national quality assurance scheme for food products managed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Participation is open to groups of producers and processors of food products after demonstration of their ability to comply with the notices techniques, the minimum technical requirements of the label. Animal welfare specifications relate to the type of rearing, the genetics, maximum stock densities, the origin and type of feed, the slaughter age and the transport. "Label Rouge" logo was created in 1965. French law governs the use of the label.

The final product is not only marked with a logo, but also provides more detailed information on the production, the so-called "caractéristiques certifies". The most important product segment of Label Rouge is poultry.

For further information:

Egg marketing legislation (EU)

The egg marketing legislation is designed to inform consumers of the production system used to produce eggs. It provides minimum standards, but Member States are free to go beyond this should they wish to. One example is the UK's Lion code. Legislation on the general labelling of eggs was first established in 1990 under a Council Regulation.

Although the labelling scheme is derived from EU legislation, the views of stakeholders including producer organisations and animal welfare organisations were considered in the drafting of the legislation. Egg labelling is not designed to be an animal welfare label, although consumers are able to purchase eggs from the system which they feel offers the best animal welfare, if this is an important factor in their purchase decision.

There are four permitted production system labels: eggs from caged hens, barn eggs, freerange eggs and organic eggs. The mandatory labelling scheme for eggs was introduced in 2004 following the optional ability to label eggs produced from caged hens as "eggs from caged hens" which had been in operation since 1995.

A necessary precondition of the optional labelling was that this was meaningful to consumers and that they were prepared to pay a price premium for eggs produced in systems which they associated with higher animal welfare criteria.

Since the implementation of the legislation, the percentage of non-caged egg production has increased significantly in nearly all Member States.

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