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Labelling of animal welfare-friendly food products
The RSPCA believes that consumers would benefit from the provision of full and accurate information about the welfare of the animals (from birth to slaughter) used in the animal-based products they buy to enable them to make informed purchasing decisions. The absence of nationally agreed definitions or standards for product labelling allows the often arbitrary use of terms such as “free range” or “bred free range” to continue without being considered false representation.
At present, the only animal product that is regularly labelled according to its production system is carton eggs. There are three recognised definitions: caged, barn and free range, as defined in the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry, although, at present there is much debate about the definition of 'free range' in terms of the maximum number of birds on the range. While labelling of cartons is voluntary in some states, it is mandatory in the ACT and
There is also no legal or even generally agreed definition of either of the terms “free range” and “bred free range” when it comes to the production of pork in
In the absence of any recognised definitions for such terms as “free range”, “bred free range”, “organic”, “biodynamic”, etc. to describe welfare-oriented production methods, the public tend to assume that these terms confer some improvement in animal welfare over other production systems. This may or may not be the case and will be greatly influenced by the standards applied and the way in which the system is managed.
A very useful discussion of the assumptions based around labelling terms is provided in the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council’s 2006 report on welfare labelling, which can be accessed at http://www.fawc.org.uk/reports/welfarelabel-0606.pdf.
The RSPCA believes that there should be a nationally consistent approach to the labelling of welfare-oriented animal products. Consumers are becoming increasingly discerning towards the ethical issues surrounding food production. Given that there are significant differences in the welfare of animals exposed to different production methods, labelling has the potential to provide consumers with consistent and reliable information on the welfare of the animal concerned as well as benefiting the welfare of increasing numbers of farm animals.
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