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Labelling of animal welfare-friendly food products

Article ID: 223
Last updated: 24 Nov, 2014
Revision: 5
Views: 24492

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 Tasmania and it is also a requirement of the Australian Egg Corporation’s quality assurance program. Consumers have demonstrated increasing interest in purchasing eggs labelled as ‘free range’ with the proportion of sales increasing from around 5% in 1997 to 23% in 2007 and 40% in 2012.

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 Australia, despite these terms increasingly being used in the marketing of pork products. Generally speaking, people tend to assume that the term “free range” indicates that animals have had some access to outdoors and are not kept in close confinement. What is meant by “access to outdoors” and “close confinement” is also often undefined and poorly understood.

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.

This website provides general information which must not be relied upon or regarded as a substitute for specific professional advice, including veterinary advice. We make no warranties that the website is accurate or suitable for a person's unique circumstances and provide the website on the basis that all persons accessing the website responsibly assess the relevance and accuracy of its content.
Also read
document What is the difference between free range, bred free range, organic, sow-stall free?
document How can I shop for animal-welfare friendly food?
document What is the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme?
document What are the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards for layer hens?
document Where can I buy RSPCA Approved chicken, eggs, pork and turkey?
document What are the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards for pigs?
document What are the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards for meat chickens?
document What are the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards for turkeys?
document Is the term free range on a product label enough to guarantee good animal welfare? The free range egg example

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