Germany favours ‘pragmatic’ approach to animal welfare labelling

In order to avoid conflict with EU internal market rules, the planned bill is to make animal welfare labelling mandatory only for products produced in Germany, while importers can use the label voluntarily. [Shutterstock]

Germany’s agriculture ministry wants to approach the implementation of a national animal husbandry label “step by step”, while also pushing an origin label at the EU level. EURACTIV Germany reports.

During his inaugural speech to the Bundestag earlier this month, German agri minister Cem Özdemir had announced he would introduce a mandatory animal welfare label before the end of the year. Since the Green politician took office in December, he repeatedly emphasised his intention to work for more animal welfare.

The three parties in the ruling coalition, the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the liberal FDP, “see the need to take a big step forward in the restructuring of animal husbandry now,” Özdemir’s State Secretary, Silvia Bender, said at an event organised by the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) on Tuesday (25 January).

The ministry has now set out to present the corresponding drafts “as quickly as possible,” she added.

At the same time, however, the State Secretary dampened expectations for the rapid introduction of a comprehensive label. “We have to see this as a framework to be developed further and further,” Bender said.

It is not feasible, from a practical standpoint, to introduce a label for all products in one step, she explained.

The ministry, therefore, wants to prioritise some products over others. For example, those that consist mainly or even exclusively of animal products, such as sausage or cheese, should be labelled as soon as possible.

German agri minister to introduce mandatory animal welfare label

In his first government statement to the German federal parliament on Friday (January 14), Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir announced his intentions to introduce mandatory husbandry labeling this year. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Animal welfare to be ‘regularly monitored’

An expansion to the entire product range should then take place step by step until even products with a low meat content like frozen pizza with salami, will have to be labelled, Bender explained.

In order to avoid conflict with EU internal market rules, the planned bill is to make animal welfare labelling mandatory only for products produced in Germany, while importers can use the label voluntarily.

Jutta Jaschke of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations welcomed the efforts to better inform consumers about animal welfare standards but warned that labelling based on different husbandry levels was not sufficient.

Existing private animal welfare labels often use a 1-4 point system to determine how animals are kept. This is based on the type of shelter and the amount of space available, for example.

Regular monitoring is still needed beyond such a system, in order to gain consumer trust, said Jaschke.

Bender, for her part, had announced that she wanted to integrate existing certification approaches for the state animal welfare label instead of starting “from scratch”.

The DBV spoke in favour of a mandatory husbandry label but criticised its planned gradual expansion for not creating sufficient planning security for farmers.

The association also stressed the need for labelling of the origin of meat products in addition to the labelling of husbandry.

“Where it says ‘Germany’ on it, it must be Germany in it,” said Hubertus Beringmeier, chair of DBV’s expert committee on processing.

The association is thus calling for the introduction of a so-called “5-D regulation” with a corresponding “5-D label”, for which products would have to have been produced in Germany from the animal’s birth to the finished product.

Last year, supermarket giant REWE, and others, had already announced their intention to have all its pork products come from Germany.

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Moving forward at EU level

The ministry stated its intentions to promote origin labelling not just on a national level, but at the EU level.

Germany, for instance, does not yet have the necessary capacities in all areas of animal production to be able to ensure closed value-added cycles at the national level. A national origin label is also problematic under EU law, Bender said.

National measures for mandatory origin labelling of food are only permissible if this is done with a specific justification, such as the protection of public health or the prevention of food fraud, the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled at the end of 2020.

Bender also pointed to the regulation for an EU-wide origin label being currently worked on as part of the flagship Farm to Fork strategy.

“Here we support an ambitious European process instead of Germany taking action on its own,” said Bender.

As part of a legislative proposal for EU-wide food labelling requirements, the European Commission wants to present plans for an origin label, among other things.

Member states have previously called on the Commission – at the time when former German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner led the EU agriculture council under the German EU Council presidency – to prioritise meat products in the development of the label.

The Commission, meanwhile, had repeatedly spoken out against national initiatives that, in its view, distort the EU single market.

If one of the member states were to encourage supermarkets to prioritise domestic products, this could breach EU competition rules, a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV in September.

Jaschke also described the call for a national origin label as confusing, given the substantial progress at the EU level. She stressed, however, that consumers had been calling for greater transparency of the origin of animal products for years.

According to Bender, the government wants to flank the efforts to label animal products with state support for the costs of conversion to better husbandry conditions, as well as adjustments, for example in building law, to facilitate stable conversions.

However, a specific financing instrument to compensate for the additional costs has not yet been agreed upon within the current so-called “traffic light” government, said Bender, who confirmed it will be discussed “in the next few weeks.”

Financing via the energy and climate fund, for example, is possible, as it would be used to finance expenditures for the promotion of environmental and climate protection, she added.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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