Speaking at the Oxford Real Farming Conference last week, RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said the labelling was essential if the Government was serious about better animal welfare post-Brexit.
“While we were encouraged when the Government put it on record that mandatory food product labelling would be included in the UK’s new Agriculture Bill, it now needs to make good on that promise,” said Bowles.
“The market for higher-welfare food would be given a huge boost with method of production food labelling. It would enable shoppers to make informed buying choices based on how farm animals are kept. Studies show that consumers want this type of labelling, which has already driven the significant growth in the purchase of higher-welfare eggs, resulting in a shift away from caged hens.”
Extended to meat and dairy
A survey by QZ Research in 2013 found that 83% of UK shoppers wanted compulsory method of production labelling, as found on whole eggs and egg boxes, to be extended to all meat and dairy products. This would encourage 77% of UK shoppers to buy higher-welfare products, according to a separate YouGov survey.
“There is currently little opportunity for consumers to have this information at the point of sale,” Bowles continued.
“At the moment, products can feature rolling green fields, happy animals or fictional farm names on the labels of their animal products, regardless of the conditions those farm animals were raised in, which risks consumers believing they are buying a higher-welfare product when in fact they may not be.”
Mandatory method of production labelling would support food firms already producing to a high standard, which had no way to differentiate themselves in the market due to the current ambiguous system, Bowles added.
Brand of quality British food
“It would also reward those farmers who are prepared to invest in higher-welfare systems and help create a brand of quality British food as the Government negotiates new trade deals and market access post-Brexit.”
However, the National Pig Association (NPA) has warned against introducing methods of production labelling on meat and dairy products, for fear of misleading consumers.
Established codes of practice, particular to the pork sector, already define several terms related to production methods that are widely used by retailers on product labels, said NPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford.
“There is a limit to the amount of useful information that can be put on food labels,” Crayford said. “Going beyond what is already required by law is likely to lead to greater confusion among consumers.”