Conservatives press government to implement method of production labelling

30th September 2016 - The UK's Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF) has called on the British government to introduce method of production labelling for all meat and dairy products. 

Lorraine Platt, the co-founder of CAWF, said: 'Brexit offers an unprecedented opportunity to take back control of British food production and for more farmers to shift from volume to quality production.  CAWF is calling for mandatory MOP labelling of all meat and dairy products because this is the best way to level the playing field for higher welfare products and allow this important market to grow.  By providing consumers with accurate farm system labelling we can help safeguard the future of British farming.'

A market based primarily on volume production presents challenges for the farming industry.  Competing on price alone is forcing many farm businesses to close.  Instead Britain should expand the welfare quality market at home, and help build a robust brand based on these values.

Method of production labelling has proved itself to be an important tool for driving standards, and an excellent opportunity for farmers to add-value to their products. [1] When these labels are underpinned by independent assurance schemes, they also help enforce animal health and welfare rules, improving bio-security.

Mandatory method of production labelling has been in place for shell eggs since 2004, and the UK pig industry adopted voluntary method of production labels in 2010.  Despite this enlightened action by the pig industry, and the remarkable success of the scheme [2], the approach has not been replicated for other UK farm species.  It's particularly difficult for consumers to drive standards in UK dairy production as most milk is pooled making it impossible to distinguish milk and cheese from permanently housed or seasonally grazed herds.

The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation is calling on the government to take the lead in providing certainty for higher welfare farmers though a clear, honest framework of method of production labelling.  Ms Platt said, 'Where method of production labelling exists, as it does for shell eggs and UK pork, it is popular with farmers and with consumers.  Labelling has meant that consumers can identify higher welfare products, allowing this higher value market to expand, and as a result many farmers have taken the chance to grow their businesses.  Farmers producing chicken, beef and dairy should have the same opportunities to grow their businesses.'

'Labels drive demand, and add value.  They're the only real tool that we consumers have to communicate our preference for higher-welfare products to producers.  Labels empower us to drive standards more effectively and to reward farmers who invest in better farm animal welfare.'

ENDS

NOTES
[1] SHELL EGGS - The mandatory EU egg labelling rules provide a successful labelling precedent, using terms that are short and easily understood by consumers.  Under these rules, egg packs must be labelled ‘eggs from caged hens’, ‘barn eggs’ or ‘free range eggs’.
In the UK cage-free egg production has risen to over 50%.  The remarkable rise in the production of cage-free eggs suggests that consumers are reacting positively to the availability of clear information as to farming method.  Independent research found an average recognition rate of 59% among European consumers in 2013.
In 2014 the British Egg Industry Council called for labelling to be extended to food containing eggs, such as quiche and egg sandwiches.

PIGS - A voluntary method of production labelling scheme for pigs was introduced by the UK pig industry in 2010.  Since then the marketing terms, Outdoor bred, Outdoor reared, Free range, and Organic have been used to describe higher welfare pig farming.  These pork labels have helped ensure that over 40% of UK pigs are now born outdoors.  (The EU average is just 10%.)  The majority of these higher-welfare pig systems are assured by the RSPCA Assured scheme, offering consumers independent assurance that the standards associated with these systems have been delivered.
This is a voluntary scheme, agreed by industry and retailers.  However, its universal implementation has been critical to its success.  Consumers can now accurately identify higher welfare pork products, and therefore drive welfare standards.  At the Oxford Farming Conference in 2015 Anderson's Consulting reflected that there is still room for the market to expand.

[2]  The Anderson’s report to the Oxford Farming Conference in 2015 noted that, ‘40% of UK pigs are reared outdoors, involving higher costs which is unique to the UK pig herd, but also attract[ing] premium prices.’
The Best British Farmers. http://www.ofc.org.uk/files/ofc/papers/ofcreport2015.pdf   

[3]  The Conservative Animals Welfare Foundation supports Labelling Matters, a partnership project of Compassion in World Farming, RSPCA, Eurogroup for Animals, and Soil Association.