RSPCA Demands Better Animal Welfare Information
A senior RSPCA official has called for government support in introducing new types of mandatory food labelling for post-Brexit Britain.
Britain is going to be facing all sorts of changes after it leaves the European Union at the end of March. And animal welfare groups want one such change to concern the labelling rules on animal-based food products.
David Bowles, the RSPCA’s head of public affairs, was a guest speaker at the Oxford Real Farming Committee at the beginning of the year. He took the opportunity to push the topic of food labels to the top of the agenda, and specifically, the important role they can play in animal welfare and aiding consumers in making ethical choices.
High welfare in high demand
Mr Bowles pointed out that there is a high demand among consumers for what he called higher-welfare food, and that people are willing to pay a little more for it. This has been plain to see in the sales of high-welfare eggs, for example, that come from free range hens.
Back in 2013, market research consultants QZ Research carried out a survey on this exact topic and the results were unambiguous. 83 percent of shoppers in the UK said they wanted the kind of labelling that is commonplace on egg boxes to be extended to meat and dairy products. A separate survey carried out by government agency YouGov found that if such labels were in place, more than three quarters of shoppers would buy higher welfare products.
Misleading labels and marketing
Mr Bowles said that the problem at present is not just that this information is absent, but that current food labelling could be misleading. Animal based food products often have packaging that depicts a rural idyll with rolling fields, happy animals and fictitious farm names. However, the image these convey is often a world away from the real-world conditions of the food’s origin.
Method of production labelling would seek to eliminate this ambiguity and would reward those manufacturers who adopt high-welfare production methods in their preparation of meat and dairy products. Mr Bowles feels that now is the ideal time to introduce this kind of label, as it would provide a new and distinct form of British food branding that could be exactly what is needed as Britain seeks to firm up lucrative trade deals and perhaps enter new markets after Brexit.
Too much information?
Not everyone is convinced that method of production labels are the way forward, however. Georgina Crayford is a senior policy advisor at the National Pig Association and she feels that these labels would do more harm than good, and could actually lead to consumers being misled. She pointed out that there are already labelling rules and conventions that provide all the information anyone could conceivably need about method of production, particularly when it comes to pork products.
She said that adding more information beyond what is already there is only likely to lead to confusion among buyers and will serve no useful purpose whatsoever.