FAWC calls for alignment of welfare standards

The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) has called for the alignment of welfare standards to help consumers choose higher welfare meat.

In a new report, the FAWC said that different schemes developed by supermarkets and producers had led to a “proliferation” of variable animal welfare standards, which was causing confusion amongst consumers.

“Many consumers are motivated about animal welfare but are confused with information that is provided and are thereby frustrated in their choice,” it said.

“Although accredited assurance schemes exist that offer identifiable products from systems and methods operating to welfare standards that are higher than legal minimum requirements, many welfare claims presented to consumers are not comparable across all food sectors.

“Moreover, certain specific claims, including those employing terms such as 'higher' or 'better' animal welfare often offer little systematic evidence of improved welfare over and above current minimum legislative compliance.”

The report called for independent governance to align higher welfare claims to a “common and identifiable set of defined welfare objectives and outcomes” against which consumers could compare welfare claims. Furthermore, it said that all higher welfare marketing claims should be demonstrated by whole life welfare advantages over and above the current legal standards. It recommended that consumer protection legislation should be invoked and enforced to regulate the misuse of welfare claims.

Pointing out that consumers currently have no way of identifying imported meat which does not meet minimum UK standards, the report recommended that such meat should be labelled at point-of-sale.

The report also explored opportunities for incorporating animal welfare into education systems. It recommended that the future national curricula for England, Scotland and Wales should include lessons on where food comes from and how farm animals are, and should be treated. Additionally, it said the government should actively encourage schemes which organise farm visits for school children.

FAWC’s chairman Professor Christopher Wathes said: “Consumers should be able to make an informed decision about their purchases of meat, eggs, milk and other animal products according to welfare provenance. This can be achieved by education of all citizens throughout childhood, with information provided at the point of sale to allow the concerned consumer to make an informed choice.”

A separate report published by the FAWC earlier this month recommeded that the government should introduce a Welfare Stewardship Scheme to reward farmers that were adopting high welfare standards.