Animal welfare must become the norm if we really care about “Feeding the planet”
‘Are consumers ready to understand the added value of animal welfare in the food products they consume?’ This was the question asked today at the European Commission’s animal welfare conference in Milan and panellist Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals, gave an honest answer: “Consumers will be ready when EU policies and businesses take the necessary steps to better respect animal sentience and improve transparency. Unfortunately, at the moment there is no real and credible commitment from the EU or the wider business community to adequately support such welfare improvements at any significant scale. As a result millions of animals are suffering without consumer knowledge.”
Currently in the EU the market is flooded with food products of uncertain origin, and most consumers have no idea of the animal welfare or environmental implications related to the foods they consume. Animals are often kept in confined or inadequate spaces for some or much of their lives, undergo painful and unnecessary mutilations, are often transported and slaughtered inhumanely, and are commonly treated simply as tools to maximise production of meat and dairy, often at the expense of the environment and public health. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Speaking critically of the current policy context in which the EXPO Milan, paradoxically titled “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, is operating, Ms. Hameleers stressed that animal welfare and consumer demand are not isolated concepts, but they are crucially linked to our need to feed the world population. “We believe that to achieve a sustainable food chain that is nutritious, economically viable, abundant and secure, as well as respectful to animals and the environment, our entire food system needs a profound overhaul. We strongly reject the idea that the anticipated increase in human population by 2050 requires an intensification of animal production. If we really want to feed the growing world population, the real challenge is not to produce more but to waste less and to ensure a more equitable distribution of food and agricultural resources. This includes encouraging a shift from animal based proteins to plant-based proteins whilst improving the welfare of farmed animals and making higher animal welfare the norm.”
Although the vast majority of animal products, like pork and chicken meat, come from conventional farming systems, alternative methods of production do exist. In the UK, Denmark, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, for example, credible, higher welfare labels have been developed that assure improved welfare outcomes for farmed animals all the way from birth until slaughter. Organic farming also holds much potential to deliver higher animal welfare outcomes, and Eurogroup for Animals is now calling on EU institutions to better ensure that this principle will be put into practice all across the EU. When coupled with improved consumer information and a reduction of overall meat consumption, higher welfare systems can help lead the way to a more sustainable food chain. But success will require the right mix of public and private support. Some good practices already exist.
In the Netherlands for example pork production from the Beter Leven label has doubled in just three years and leading Dutch retailers like Albert Heijn are now only selling higher welfare pork. Another label, RSPCA Assured, has been so successful with regard to pork that a third of all British farmed pigs are now being reared under RSPCA assured standards. Mandatory egg shell labelling, in force in the EU since 2004, has also helped to increase transparency of production methods for laying hens, driving a significant increase in cage free egg production across the EU.
Ms. Hameleers stressed that there are very important pre-conditions to make higher welfare products the norm. “Farmers must be encouraged to adopt higher welfare standards through public and private incentives like mandatory method of production labelling, improved rural development support, and better private investment. Furthermore, retailers and food producers must become more accountable, improve their sourcing and production methods, and do their part to increase information to consumers.”
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Facts on the sustainability of the food chain:
Livestock production already accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land (and 30 percent of the earth’s land surface). The wide-scale production of animal products and animal feed is one of the greatest sources of resource inefficiency of our food production, as calories fed to animals could be better used by people.
Resource inefficiency of animal feed: Currently almost 40 percent of grain produced globally is fed to livestock, and this figure is expected to increase substantially. For every calorie that we feed to animals in the form of crops, we only receive on average about 30% of the calorific value.
We don’t need to produce more food: Over half of the world’s food is lost or wasted post-harvest or at distribution/retail and consumers levels or by being fed to animals or used as bio-fuels.
Raising animals on pastures or other grasslands leads to a reduced intake of edible crops for human consumption (in the case or ruminants). We need improved nutrition and diet-related health: 1.4 billion people are overweight of whom 500 million are obese. Overconsumption can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and certain cancers. EU citizens consume 40% more saturated fat.
Free range animals provide meat of higher nutritional quality than animals reared industrially.
Industrial production can be broadly defined as intensive farming, where the production system and management style treat the animals as (living) commodities and do not pro-actively support or allow management according to their individual needs and where the performance of normal behaviour is impeded to such an extent that welfare is compromised
Please remember to only eat less and better animal products.
For more information about existing higher animal welfare farm assurance schemes, please view the respective websites of our members:
In Austria (and other countries, including Germany): http://www.vier-pfoten.de/service/guetesiegel/
In Denmark: http://www.dyrenesbeskyttelse.dk/#pV6g9tleutc26SOS.97
In Germany: http://www.tierschutzlabel.info/home/
In the Netherlands: http://beterleven.dierenbescherming.nl/
In the United Kingdom: http://www.freedomfood.co.uk/industry/rspca-welfare-standards
We strongly reject the idea that the anticipated increase in human population by 2050 requires an intensification of animal production.Reineke Hameleers, Director at Eurogroup for Animals