German minister presents plans for mandatory animal welfare label

According to the minister, the label should help to make farmers' investments in animal welfare more visible and at the same time create more transparency for consumers. [SASCHA STEINBACH/EPA-EFE]

Every product produced and sold in Germany will soon have to indicate the conditions under which animals were kept, according to plans presented by German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir on Tuesday (7 June). EURACTIV Germany reports.

Producers will have to introduce the new measures step-by-step over the next couple of years.

“Animal husbandry in Germany can only be fit for the future if it does justice to animal welfare,” Özdemir stressed during a press conference where he presented a benchmark paper to implement a nationwide animal husbandry labelling system.

Already in the coalition agreement, the three ruling parties had set themselves the goal of introducing a mandatory animal welfare label. Shortly after taking office in December, Özdemir then announced it would be launched before the end of the year, at least for certain product groups.

According to the minister, the label should help to make farmers’ investments in animal welfare more visible while at the same time creating more transparency for consumers.

Customers “want to know how the animal whose meat they buy has lived, and they also want to express their future expectations with their purchase decision, as far as possible,” stressed the agriculture minister.

Germany currently has no state-imposed label for animal products.

Last year, the plan of now-former conservative Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner to introduce a state-run but voluntary label failed due to opposition from the Social Democrats (SPD), the coalition partner at the time. Back then, the SPD wanted a mandatory label instead.

Five levels of livestock rearing

Just as eggs must be labelled with a number indicating how the laying hens are kept, Özdemir’s plans for animal products include a “clearly visible” indication of the animals living conditions.

Five different types of farming are to be distinguished, ranging from indoor livestock without outdoor runs and fresh air to free-range rearing, with organic production as a separate category.

Mandatory labelling will apply to all foods containing animal products, including processed products, such as frozen pepperoni pizza or prepared salads with chicken strips.

Packaged products in the supermarket and products at the food counter, online retail and in the supermarket should also be labelled.

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For the time being, however, all this remains for the future, as the first step will be to make only fresh pork sold chilled or frozen subject to the labelling requirement, which is then to be extended step by step.

Environmentalists and animal rights activists, therefore, still see room for improvement.

In a statement, Greenpeace pointed to ham, processed frozen goods, and meat from beef and poultry not being covered for the time being.

The farming method as the basis for the label also creates “hardly any orientation about the actual welfare of the animals,” explained Greenpeace expert Martin Hofstetter.

The organisation Foodwatch expressed similar views, with its expert, Annemarie Botzki, explaining that the farming method alone “says nothing about whether the animals have actually been healthy.”

Meanwhile, the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) assessed the concept presented by Özdemir as a “first important step,” but one that still leaves “considerable gaps”.

As long as there is no set timetable for when the labelling requirement will be extended to processed products and meats other than pork, “there will be no steering effect whatsoever and the concept risks being undermined in the market,” DBV President Joachim Rukwied said in a statement.

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Financing as a bone of contention

Farmers’ associations and animal rights activists also stressed that labelling must be embedded in a broader concept for restructuring animal farming.

For example, it must be “flanked with changes in building law and with a viable, long-term financing concept,” explained Rukwied, while Hofstetter from Greenpeace stressed that the government must provide sufficient money to finance the restructuring.

Yet, this labelling is only the first of four building blocks that the German government wants to implement for the future of animal husbandry, Özdemir explained.

“Agricultural animal husbandry in Germany can only be future-proof if it offers farmers a perspective that also enables them to earn a good income,” the Green minister said.

In addition to the compulsory label, the ministry also wants to present changes in animal welfare law, adjustments in building and licensing law and, above all, a funding concept for the conversion to more animal-friendly stables in the longer term, he added.

However, the latter could prove difficult within the coalition. The Liberal Democrats (FDP), for example, recently expressed their opposition to the proposal for an animal welfare levy on livestock products, and the coalition has not yet been able to agree on a funding concept.

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[Edited by Oliver Noyan/ Daniel Eck/Alice Taylor]

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