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Industry leaders have welcomed a Defra decision to drop plans for compulsory animal welfare labels on food items. Defra drops ‘flawed’ proposal for animal welfare labelling

Industry leaders have welcomed a Defra decision to drop plans for compulsory animal welfare labels on food items.

Proposals under consideration would have seen pork, poultry and eggs categorised according to their production method. Defra claimed the move could help drive improvements in welfare standards.

But the idea has been dropped following a concerted campaign by pig and poultry leaders. They argued that the plan would add significant costs to the food chain without delivering further clarity for consumers.

A coalition of industry bodies – including producers and processors – raised their concerns in a letter to Defra earlier this year. The letter said mandatory labelling would not deliver better animal health because production method was not a key determinant of welfare.

Similar criticisms were levelled by the National Pig Association when Defra officials presented their plans earlier this year. NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson welcomed the decision not to pursue the consultation.

‘Blunt tool’

“We as an organisation argued strongly behind the scenes that compulsory welfare labelling would be a blunt tool that adds costs across the chain, while doing nothing to educate consumers about real welfare on farms.

“Our Pig Industry Group made it very clear to Defra that you cannot equate welfare with method of production and that the proposed system would likely confuse, rather than inform.

“We welcome the fact that Defra has listened to us and others throughout the supply chain on this and will continue to work with them to ensure any future moves to increase transparency in the pork supply chain are proportionate and effective.”

Defra had planned a formal consultation in the spring. But it failed to materialise. Last month, officials told the National Pig Association that the department did not believe it was the right time to launch a consultation.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are proud to have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world.

“We will continue to work with farmers and supermarkets to improve food information for consumers and support the production of healthier, higher welfare animals through our Animal Health and Welfare Pathway.”

Defra ran a call for evidence in 2021 to gather data on the impacts of different types of labelling reforms for animal welfare. It will now examine how welfare labelling might align with wider proposals, such as eco-labelling.

It said the evidence gained suggested that there is public appetite for improved welfare labelling and made it clear it still wants to improve transparency and provide the industry with a ‘level playing field’ to promote higher welfare products.