Here in the UK, the government is consulting on mandatory animal welfare labelling (closing 7 May 2024). People may wish to respond if they want to express their support or share thoughts and evidence that could shape the outcomes.

I think such labelling has the potential to significantly improve animal welfare, not just through changing individual choices but by encouraging companies to stop selling the lowest welfare tiers entirely, and through raising labelling standards over time. Higher standards will probably also mean higher prices, lower consumption and 'fairer' competition with alternative proteins. What happens in the UK may also influence future reforms in the EU and elsewhere.

To summarise the proposals:

  • Mandatory labelling would apply to chicken, eggs and pig products (with the suggestion that beef, lamb and dairy could follow later)
  • At least initially, this would not apply to restaurants etc., but to food from retailers like supermarkets
  • At least initially, it would only cover unprocessed and minimally processed foods, so e.g. beef mince and probably bacon, but not meaty ready meals or meringues
  • There would be five tiers "primarily based on method of production", covering types of confinement, enrichment, mutilations, breed and more. Full draft standards can be seen here.
  • The tiers might be referred to by numbers, letters or stars, potentially also with names, colours and pictures (see their mock-up, which I think needs improvement)
  • The 2nd lowest tier would simply match UK minimum legal requirements, while the lowest tier would be for "products that are not verified as meeting baseline UK welfare regulations". I hope that a lot of retailers, with or without encouragement, will not sell the lowest tier products – reducing the prevalence of low welfare imports.
  • There is no explicit draft timetable but it suggests an 18 month implementation period after legislation. Speculatively, I would be surprised if legislation gets through before the general election, so potentially this could become law in 2025 and take effect in 2026 or 2027.

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I think it takes about 30 minutes to reply to this consultation, and I think it's absolutely worth doing.

This Google Doc indicates the animal welfare-relevant questions and suggests responses. I encourage anybody to copy-paste these suggestions, or use them as inspiration for original responses. Note that the government recognises "that respondents may choose to use some standardised text to inform their response", and accepts them as legitimate responses.

Thanks @haven for help writing this!

On your comment about Part A: “it’s not the most relevant to animal welfare”, I think there are some questions which are relevant, such as:

18. If we did not use a list approach, please describe any alternative approaches you would propose to define which minimally processed meat products are included?

All products derived from animals should be included, irrespective of the extent of processing after slaughter. The criteria for labeling should be based on how the animals are treated during their lives, rather than on how much the industry transforms the meat after slaughter.

I don’t see how processing more or less the meat has any influence to the wellbeing of the animals used.

Hi Miguel! Sorry I'm a week late replying to you here. I agree with your point, and I'm updating my document to reflect this. I'm copying your wording, but please let me know if you'd rather I rewrite. I was initially trying to balance minimising respondents' time commitment with pushing on the most important/tractable questions, but I think you're right that expanding the scope of affected animal products could really matter.

Thanks for putting together the doc.

For the suggested responses, are they informed by expertise or based on a personal view? This would be useful to know where I'm not sure about them. E.g. for the question on including images, I wondered if they could be misleading if they show animals (as disease and other health problems aren't very visible, perhaps leading people to erroneously think "those animals look OK to me" or similar).

I also wonder if there's a risk from this that products get labelled as "high" welfare when the animals still suffer overall, reducing impetus for further reform. I think the scheme would still be good, but I wonder if there's scope to add an argument that labels like "high" should be reserved only for cases where welfare is independently assessed to indeed be probably positive and high.

Hey!

The responses were written with input from animal welfare professionals, but they're only suggestions and I would encourage you to share your own opinions too. I'm happy to talk through the object-level of any disagreements, if helpful.

On images specifically, I agree that misleading pictures could undermine the label's effectiveness but I personally doubt the risk outweighs the reward of informing consumers about the real conditions of animal farming. Whether you choose 'agree' or 'disagree', I think you should detail your thoughts in the 'explanation' section and emphasise that businesses shouldn't be allowed to use misleading photos of animals.

The labels will be imperfect, and it's an open question whether policymakers and the public will stall on further progress. More empirical research here would be good. (If you've not seen it, you might find this resource interesting although it is a few years old). But I think that we have to try to score a goal whenever the opportunity presents itself, and that it's very plausible both that political wins build momentum for the animal movement and that labelling increases public salience of welfare issues.

Independent assessment of welfare claims is covered in question 72. I've suggested strongly supporting it, except in cases where it made the labelling scheme unworkable.

Thanks, it's good to know it's had input from multiple knowledgable people. I agree that this looks like a good thing even if it's implemented imperfectly!

I have some concerns about animal-welfare labelled meat, that it could be counterproductive. See this study: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21606544.2024.2330552

My very hastily typed up long-answer responses:

What five (minimally) processed meat products would be the most important to include? [I didn't refer to a list other than the example list they gave, so some of these might not be appropriate]
Chicken nuggets
Bacon
Shelled prawns/shrimp
fish slices with a coating
raw seasoned chicken portions

If we did not use a list approach, please describe any alternative approaches you would propose to define which minimally processed meat products are included?
Prioritise labelling meat products that require a lot of animals per product, e.g many shrimp produce one serving of shrimp, whereas a small amount of a cow produces one serving of beef. 
 

33 a) . Do you agree that method of production labelling should be mandatory? Yes
33 b). Please explain your answer. If you answered no, please detail any alternative approaches that you feel would be effective in delivering informative, consistent and accessible information on method of production to consumers
Many food production methods directly cause significant suffering for the animals involved, create environmental harms, and introduce health risks (e.g zoonotic diseases and antibiotic resistance). Given the interest people have in animal welfare (as shown by surveys reporting high willingness-to-pay for better animal welfare), as well as in environment and health, it's important to keep consumers informed about the industry their purchasing decisions support. It is also important to reward producers engaged in better practices.

34 a) . Do you agree that any new mandatory method of production labelling should apply to both domestic and imported products? Yes
 34 b) . Please explain your answer 
Domestic and imported products should face equal requirements when brought to the UK market. Method of production labelling can be disadvantageous to some producers with lower production quality in terms of welfare and environment  considerations. It would be unfair to the UK producers with low production quality to compete with imported products for which the same labels are not required, since those imported products may also have similar (or more damaging) production methods. Introducing mandatory method of production labelling also helps establish the UK as a leader in mandatory method of production labelling, and introduces economic incentives for such requirements (and their indubitable benefits) to arise in other parts of the world. 

39 a) . How important do you think it is that a method of production label includes processed as well as unprocessed animal products? Important
39 b) . Please explain your answer 
Eventually, a method of production label should include processed as well as unprocessed animal products. This is two main reasons:

1) It is important not to invisibilise the inclusion of animal products in products that less obviously contain animal products, such as cakes containing eggs and milk.  

2) Further processing of food tends to produce less healthy products, and is also a change that larger producers can introduce more readily than small-scale producers. Further processing should also not be an "escape route" for large-scale producers to avoid honestly portraying their production methods and experiencing the market's reaction to greater transparency.  

However, I understand the importance of legislation being practical for the food industry, so I consider this an "important" rather than "very important" issue. 

41 b) . If you would like to propose an additional priority for labelling, please state below.
Shrimp -- including minimally processed: e.g shells removed; breaded.
Wild caught fish -- including minimally processed: e.g tinned; breaded; fish fingers; salted; marinated.
Farmed fish -- including salmon, tuna, trout; same as above.
Chicken -- nuggets. 

42. If we did not use a list approach, please describe any alternative approaches you would propose to define which minimally processed meats are included
If recognisable as coming from a single unprocessed animal product, the minimally processed meat should be included. 

47 a). To what extent do you agree that standards should be based on inputs which are important for welfare, given the lack of examples of labels based on welfare outcomes and the additional supply chain complexity this would involve? Strongly agree
47 b) . Please explain your answer
I strongly agree that standards should be based on inputs which are important for welfare. This fills a demand in the market for making ethical choices between food products. Though supply chains are complex and there are few existing examples of labels based on welfare outcomes, the UK can take this opportunity to establish itself as a moral leader in the food industry. 

52. If you would like to suggest changes to the levels at which individual standards are set in the draft tiers, available in Annex B, please do so. For laying hens:
I find it important that tier metrics should capture the experiences and welfare outcomes of animals. For instance, rather than making resources available to an animal, the animal should be in a condition to use those resource. Rather than prohibiting a painful practice such as beak trimming, the source of excessive stress-induced pecking should be verifiably removed. I give two examples --Outdoor access and beak trimming -- below. 

Outdoor access should be replaced with "Outdoor use".  Not only should the outdoors be accessible, but the animals and the environment should be in such a condition that the outdoor access should be voluntarily used. The way to verify this is to actively check whether a randomly selected chicken is found to use the outdoor space for at least one several-hour period each week in her life, weather permitting. After all, there is no use having a door to the outside if the outside environment is not suitable for use, or if the animals are not in a physical and mental state to use it. This could be said for use of destructible material and dustbathing area as well. 

Similar for Beak Trimming in the "highest" category of Annex B for Laying Hens. There, it is written that beak trimming is not allowed because environmental factors should ensure that hens do not excessively peck each other. There should be a more verifiable metric, such as "pecking does not lead to infection for 95% of the flock." 

Similar may be said for the meat chickens and pigs' welfare standards in Annex B. 

For meat chickens and pigs: 
Similar sentiments as question 52 for laying hens.

Outdoor access should be replaced with "Outdoor use". Existence of enrichment materials should be replaced with "Use of Enrichment Materials."  Not only should the outdoors be accessible, but the animals and the environment should be in such a condition that the outdoor access should be voluntarily used. The way to verify this is to actively check whether a randomly selected animal is found to use the outdoor space for at least one several-hour period each week in her life, weather permitting; or found to use the enrichment materials regularly. After all, there is no use having a these resources if they are not suitable for use, or if the animals are not in a physical and mental state to use them.


53 . Do you agree with the proposal above detailing the period of life covered by the draft standards for each sector? For laying hens: No, it is too short 
Please explain your answer 
I support inclusion of the period of life when hens are being reared as pullets (usually from day-old-chicks up to 16 weeks of age), as well as transport and slaughter, which can be extremely stressful. Regardless, I strongly believe it is better to have labelling encompass the proposed period of life than no labelling at all. 

For meat chickens: No, it is too short 
Please explain your answer: 
I support inclusion of the period of life including transport and slaughter, which can be extremely stressful. Regardless, I strongly believe it is better for labelling to encompass the proposed period of life than no labelling at all. 

For pigs: No, it is too short 
Please explain your answer:
I support inclusion of the period of life including transport and slaughter, which can be extremely stressful. Regardless, I strongly believe it is better for labelling to encompass the proposed period of life than no labelling at all. 

57 a) . Do you feel the label should include terminology describing both method of production and level of welfare: Yes, both. 

58. Please share any comments on label terminology options based on the draft standards in Annex B. This may include individual terms you feel should, or should not, be used. Please provide supporting evidence where available. Method of production term:
At later stages of the labelling effort, I think it is very important to make clear to consumers what these methods of production entail. Consumers' expectations for what "free range" , "barn," and "organic" mean may differ starkly from what they actually mean. I urge welfare labelling to be clearer about the lived experiences of animals.

For instance, for laying hens in the UK, some labels include caged, barn, free range, and organic. When consumers consider "free range", they tend to imagine happy chickens stretching their wings outdoors and scratching in the dirt for almost their entire lives. In reality, according to the RSPCA, "Legal requirements for free-range eggs ensure a minimum amount of space and litter for the hens: no more than nine hens a square metre, 10cm of feeder a bird and one drinker for 10 birds." Guardian (2017). Though this evidence may be outdated, the fact remains that food labelling should be authentic. What consumers think the label means and what it actually means should line up. I urge mandatory labels to account for this in the future, either using more informative labels, or changing legislation itself.

In any case, I am very excited about this step towards mandatory labelling. Though some groups may argue that the rules aren't stringent and pro-welfare enough for the food systems we ultimately desire, I think it's important and worth celebrating that we are starting somewhere. 

58 continued. Level of welfare term.
Welfare standards should be more accurate. Animals at Standard, Improved, and High levels of welfare standards may still be experiencing debilitating injuries, pain, skin diseases, bullying, limited range of movement, and very limited expression of natural behaviours. It may be misleading to use the "high" welfare term. I recommend more accurate terms.

I also recommend terms that promote positive competition for every-improving welfare levels. Terminology should reflect that the labels are relative to other producers' practices, while also not misleading consumers about the animals' actual wellbeing. For instance, terms like Poorest, Poorer, Standard, Industry Leader and Industry Best may be better.

Welfare standards should be continually updated, where terms become associated with ever-increasing production practices. For instance, a term like "Industry Best" or "Highest" should be granted to no more than the top 10% of food products with the highest welfare standards. This encourages healthy competition between producers to produce and innovate for higher welfare products.

It is important that this update encourages an upward trend in welfare practices. That is, if welfare practices become worse over time for whatever reason, it may happen that the proportion of food labelled "Highest" in its reference class falls from 10% to 5%.

60a) On (d) a picture illustrating method of production: To what extent do you support the inclusion of a picture illustrating the method of production? Support. 
60 b) . Please explain your answer. 
It is very important that the picture accurately represents the animals in the farm. If health problems, e.g broken bones, missing feathers, sores, inability to move, are common, this should be represented by the image. Many consumers are interested in the welfare of the animals they eat -- a picture of a sore, representation of a broken bone, may be unappetising but honest. "Nicer" images may be misleading. 

62. Please share any comments you would like to make on the mocked-up example label.
I think it's very important that the minimal outline should differ depending on the welfare level of the animal. If the welfare level is "Standard", a more representative illustration might include several chickens packed closely in a cage, rather than the more idyllic image portrayed above. 
 

It would be good to have a proposal for responses to 49 and 50, from the charities who studied Animal Welfare metrics. I recognize my ignorance on this topic.

In the second half of 2022, we worked with a group from the Animal Welfare Committee to identify priority metrics for each sector and develop a set of standards that could underpin the proposed label. We have limited the number of metrics to those that are evidence-based and practical to deliver. We will also work with industry to consider how the standards should interact with existing derogations for disease outbreaks if proposals are taken forward.

Many thanks Ben Stevenson and jojo_lee for sharing your responses! It was useful for inspiration and to save time.

I add a couple of answers which I think were missing in your lists. Please note my English will probably contain errors as I’m not a native speaker.

23. Should the written origin of food be accompanied by a national flag or other symbol?

There should be a symbol for countries with animal wellfare standards similar or higher than those of the UK, and a symbol for countries with lower standards or no standard at all.

73 Please share any further comments on the monitoring and enforcement proposals.:

Cameras with public streaming should be mandatory on animal factories and slaughterhouses. This would make the conditions more transparent for the consumer, and would reduce the costs of auditing and monitoring by the government as the public can also participate and report non-compliance.

The mandatory requirement for Spanish slaughterhouses to install video surveillance systems can be used as a starting point for legislation in UK.

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