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Study Shows Consumers Want to Know How Food is Produced

12 July 2013

UK - An independent study shows that eight out of 10 UK consumers want to know which farm system has been used to produce their meat and dairy products.

The UK government is opposed to labelling meat and dairy products by method of production, and is pushing the European Commission to keep consumers in the dark about where their food actually comes from, according to Compassion in World Farming.

However, the animal welfare group said that 83 per cent of UK consumers want method of production labelling, which clearly identifies the farm system used to produce the food, extended to meat and dairy products.

Almost as many, 79 per cent, said farm animal welfare was important when deciding which food products to buy.

The research was commissioned by Labelling Matters, a joint project of Compassion in World Farming, RSPCA, Soil Association and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA.

It found that the welfare of farm animals was an important factor when choosing food and that there is a strong demand by UK shoppers for mandatory method of production labelling.

Julia Wrathall, Head of Farm Animals at the RSPCA, said: “Despite clear method of production labelling of eggs and new EU legislation to label fish by method of catch, consumers are still kept in the dark about the farm systems used to produce the vast majority of their meat and dairy products.”

Method of production labelling has been legally required for eggs sold in the EU since 2004.

Since then all eggs sold in shells have had to be labelled as ‘eggs from caged hens’, ‘barn eggs’, ‘free range’, or ‘organic’.

The change has dramatically increased the number of eggs produced in cage-free systems in the UK.

Method of catch labelling for fish was agreed by the EU in June 2013.

Julia Wrathall said: “It can be extremely difficult for consumers trying to buy higher welfare products.

“So many meat and dairy labels use misleading language and images to suggest good welfare even when the animals have been reared in standard intensive systems.

“As we have seen with eggs, consumers have the power to drive improvements in farm systems, but they can only do this if there is honest, comparable information on products they buy.”

In 2010 Defra carried out its own study, recording the opinions of just 96 people. The study concluded that labelling would have a limited effect on purchasing behaviours.

Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming, said: "It’s astonishing that Defra and the European Commission are still resisting clear, objective method of production labelling of meat and dairy products.

"Farming Minister, David Heath, has repeatedly claimed that method of production labelling is too complicated, that good welfare can be achieved even in the most barren and intensive systems, and that labelling is not a sufficiently important influence on consumer behaviour.

"The Labelling Matters research recorded the opinions of thirty-times more consumers than Defra’s study. It directly contradicts the government’s position."

The research also investigated consumer support for the specific poultry meat labelling terms, proposed by Labelling Matters: intensive indoor, extensive indoor, free range, and organic. More than three-quarters of respondents said they would use these terms.

The majority of chickens reared for meat in the UK are housed in intensive systems, which can have a detrimental effect on their welfare including lameness and heart and lung failure. With around 90 per cent of chickens being intensively reared it can be very difficult for people to find a higher welfare option when they shop for food., according to CIWF.

These figures prove that people want honest, objective labelling of poultry meat, and of all meat and dairy products, CIWF said.

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