AB Sustain, a division of AB Agri, the agriculture group of Associated British Foods, said it commissioned an online omnibus research survey their general understanding of farm assurance labels and animal welfare standards with 1,000 consumers, which the company claims was a “nationally representative sample.”
The results, said AB Sustain, indicate that 83% of participants said they find the large amount of different labels “confusing”.
The survey notes a slight differential in ‘confusion’ levels among the various age groups with poll findings showing 88% of over-55s citing a lack of understanding about the diverse schemes, against 81% of 18-24-year-olds.
When those polled were asked if they would like to see existing animal welfare-related labels replaced with a single retailer standard that includes farm assurance and a high level of animal welfare, 93% of the consumers said yes, with again, the over-55s the most in favour of each retailer implementing their own standard.
Johanna Buitelaar Warden, head of animal welfare at AB Sustain, told this publication that retailers can work with consultants to help devise standards and implement an auditing, training and advice programme.
“At least one major retailer already has their own specific welfare standards across all species that are applied worldwide,” she added.
Indeed, Compassion in World Farming, a UK-based NGO notes on its website that the retail chain, Whole Foods Market, has its own labelling system with “a good base level and very high welfare at best e.g. no mutilations and very extensive free-range.”
Premium price commitment
The AB Sustain research also found that some 65% of consumers are prepared to pay a premium for meat and fish that has been ethically and humanely treated throughout its life cycle – with only 27% saying they would definitely not consider paying extra.
But, according to a recent review by researchers at Università della Basilicata in Potenza, Italy, additional studies are needed to verify whether the premium consumers place on animal welfare friendly products in terms of willingness to pay is at least as large as the price premium needed to cover the extra costs linked to increased animal welfare standards.
There is no harmonised animal welfare labelling scheme in the EU. Programmes in use include organic labelling, schemes run by various animal charities like the RSPCA’s Freedom Food, retailer’s own, and other marks like the Red Tractor, which may only refer to minimum legal requirements.
Shoppers mindful of meat
Research from 2010 showed that animal welfare is playing a greater role in food purchasing decisions in the UK, beating food additives as the most worrying issue in consumers’ minds.
Market researcher Mintel found that as many as 4 in 10 UK shoppers say they are concerned about animal welfare overall - 46% of women and 34% of men. The other big concerns were British origin (a priority for 37%), and food additives (36 per cent), and desire for locally produced foods (35 per cent).
Meanwhile, data analysis by UK NGO, Compassion in World Farming, from the 12 months up to 22 March 2010 showed an increase in sales of free range, barn and organic eggs compared to the previous year – from 62.2 per cent to 66.4 per cent.
Sales of higher welfare fresh chicken meat were also seen to have absorbed more of the growth in the chicken market. They increased 22 per cent in the last year, while standard chicken say only 0.1 per cent year on year growth.
Some campaigners say voluntary measures are not enough in terms of promoting animal welfare standards. Compassion in World Farming argues that mandatory labelling would identify meat, poultry and dairy produce that are reared intensively.
Compassion’s director of programmes John Callaghan pointed out that a mandatory system for eggs already exists, and is working well. Eggs must be marked from 0 to 3, with 0 denoting organic, 1 free ranged, 2 barn, and 3 caged.
“The remarkable rise in sales of non-cage eggs in many countries since the introduction of mandatory labelling of egg packs suggests that consumers are reacting positively to the availability of clear information as to farming method,” he said.
Compassion suggests the use of four terms for meat, poultry and dairy: indoor intensive, indoor extensive, free range and premium free range.