Labelling Matters, the umbrella campaign backed by a range of leading animal welfare groups across Europe, said mandatory animal welfare (AW) labelling would be beneficial both to consumers and meat producers.
Ministers last week (11 May) debated a proposed regulation which would revise EU labelling rules on what foodstuffs can or cannot be labelled as organic. The goal is to make organic production easier, while guaranteeing fair competition for farmers and improving consumer confidence in organic products.
There was general approval for the proposal, but some member states asked for more time to consider it and the debate will resume next month (June), when a vote is expected.
Labelling Matters European project manager Ffinlo Costain, said: "What we need in the EU is economic growth in agriculture and other sectors. Mandatory labelling would create an opportunity for producers to move into a higher-value marketplace, while giving consumers what they want in terms of confidence and trust."
Campaign research showed 75% of people questioned across Europe were in favour of animal welfare labelling for all animal-based products. Costain cited the example of shell-eggs, which have been subject to mandatory labelling for some years. Labelling has helped the cage-free sector to expand from 19.7% in 2003 to 44.6% in 2014.
But the European Livestock and Meat Trades Union adopted a more cautious position. Secretary-general Jean-Luc Mériaux said: "We note that several ministers asked for more time to consider their position and we think the proposal needs to be properly evaluated, and this is one of the things we do at the UECBV." The organisation thinks the practicalities of welfare food labelling and the possible impact on competition need further analysis.
The International Foundation for Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) also commented on the Council of Ministers’ debate. Board member Jan Plagge welcomed the decision to postpone voting until June, saying: "The discussion today has shown that there will only be an agreement with the backing of the sector. The diversity of opinions among member states on many key topics remained."