Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by the RSPCA


· The RSPCA believes that the consumer and government can play an important role in demanding and pulling through sustainable food policies on animal welfare but this can only be delivered with clear and transparent information and clear policies.

· A number of examples such as the procurement policies of the 2012 Olympic Games

and Hampshire County Council show what can be delivered through central policies.

· The egg sector clearly shows the response effect from consumers to clear mandatory information and this should be delivered in other livestock sectors.

1. There a number of different policies and factors that are affecting sustainable agriculture and impacting on a producers’ decision as to which product and at what standard it should be produced. Food 2030 sets out the goal of having a sustainable food policy with high animal welfare standards in a global context by 2030; in 2009 government policies focused on securing global food security by 2050 against the challenges of climate change and rising food inflation and the part UK farmers can play. In the next year a number of legislative agreements to improve animal welfare by phasing out or improving certain close confinement methods of farming in Europe will be enforced; some countries will be applying different levels of standards. Directive 1999/74 will phase out the conventional battery cage system for laying hens from 1st January 2012, but it is apparent that a number of the leading egg producing countries in Europe, unlike the UK, will not be ready for this change over. Standards for chicken farming, contained in Directive 2007/43 have come into effect, leading to farmers in England and Wales (unlike those in Northern Ireland) producing at a higher welfare standard than those in some other European countries. Pig standards will be harmonised from 2013 and the higher welfare standards in the UK in pig production banning the use of stalls and tethers that have operated from 1999 will be brought in to line with other countries. Then there is the backdrop of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and possible tariff reductions under an agricultural agreement under the Doha Round of the WTO. There is a real opportunity both from government and consumers to help producers with these changes.

2. British consumers have consistently stated that they consider animal welfare to be an important issue when choosing food and that they do not wish to purchase food that is imported from countries using lower standards than in the UK [1] . In addition many close confinement systems such as those phasing out the sow stall and the prohibition of the veal crate system were prohibited in the UK before they were phased out in Europe. So it is important for British producers and farmers using these systems that they are not undercut from products from systems using lower welfare standards, either inside or outside the EU-27. To achieve this from a consumer perspective, clear information is required through labelling. To achieve this from a central and local government perspective clear standards and procurement practices need to be laid out and followed that promote sustainable farming.

3. Labelling makes it possible for consumers to make an informed choice about the products that they are buying and for producers of higher welfare standards to gain due recognition for this and recover some of their increased production costs in the market place. Higher welfare food products are often difficult or impossible to distinguish from lower welfare alternatives, so clear labelling is required as a mechanism to differentiate the products on the basis of animal welfare criteria. The EU is considering a European labelling scheme, as part of its present Animal Health and Welfare strategy [2] , looking at harmonising rules on voluntary labelling on animal welfare provenance.

4. Polling clearly shows that there is a disconnect between what the consumers are demanding and what retailers are giving them. For instance 65% of the British public surveyed in the first Eurobarometer on animal welfare said that they would be willing to pay a price premium for eggs from welfare friendly systems [3] but 87% felt that food retailers do not provide enough information on welfare conditions and 89% felt that clearer labelling on livestock production methods should be provided to indicate animal welfare conditions. The pressure on retailers to offer competitive prices can often conflict with moves to improve animal welfare and highlights the need for clear Government direction on labelling. Greater and quicker switches by consumers could occur if retailers were required to label clearly the welfare provenance of all livestock products.

5. At present the Government’s position is to seek country of origin labelling, which may encourage localism but would necessarily enable greater transparency on how the product was produced or give the consumer the information they are seeking on animal welfare. Mandatory labelling on method of production would achieve this. Where there has been mandatory labelling of production method, for eggs, this has resulted in a clearer operation of the market place. For instance in the UK sales of free range eggs increased from 22% of the market share in 2001 to 30% in 2005, after mandatory labelling was introduced in 2004. Barn eggs’ market share remained constant in the same period and the share for caged eggs declined from 70% to 63%. Indeed there was a 6% increase in market share of free range eggs in the two year period after mandatory labelling was introduced in January 2004 compared to a lower increase of under 2% in the preceding three year period, highlighting the effectiveness of a mandatory labelling scheme.

6. Mandatory labelling was introduced after voluntary schemes failed to provide consumers with clear transparent information. A voluntary labelling scheme for shell eggs existed for over ten years in the European Union but research showed that consumers were still confused about the provenance of eggs on sale. The problem was that there was no incentive for lower welfare eggs to list their method of production as this would reduce consumer demand. Use of labels with phrases such as "farm" or "country fresh" increased consumer confusion.

7. The RSPCA agrees that government can play a much more central role in encouraging the use of higher welfare food in its procurement standards. We supported the Government’s move this year to introduce for the first time under the Government Buying Standards (GBS) a sourcing policy based on animal welfare. The RSPCA feels that if Government are to play a role in pulling up standards the policy should be aspirational and set higher standards. The Government’s own research shows a correlation between membership of an assurance scheme and lower risk of compliance problems with existing legislation [4] . So a policy of only buying from producers that are members of an assurance scheme would not only set a good baseline but would also encourage better enforcement of legislative standards. This would not be overly burdensome to industry. For instance in the chicken sector it is projected that over 80% of chicken produced in the UK is produced under ACP assurance standards. In the meat sector over 90% of British pigs are sourced from Assured British Pigs and over 75% from Assured British Meat. The Government should then be encouraging a set percentage of policies to be above baseline eg using higher standards such as free range eggs or RSPCA standards that are used in assurance schemes such as Freedom Food. This is already being trialled at the 2012 Olympic Games.

8. In 2010 the London Organising Committee on the Olympic Games announced its sustainability procurement policy, the first time this had been set for an Olympic Games on animal welfare grounds. This will ensure that any eggs sold at any Olympic venue are free range and will also ensure that at least 20% of chicken and pork products being sold are also produced to higher welfare standards such as those used by Freedom Food. This is a clear example of how procurement standards can be used to raise animal welfare, ensure that British products are used and still deliver sustainable food at an affordable cost to a major event.

9. Government also have a duty to ensure that their own sourcing standards in their restaurants and canteens are delivering at least the same as the baseline legislation. The House of Commons banqueting policy, which covers the restaurants and receptions held there, is to provide free range eggs and is studying extending this policy to include a set percentage of Freedom Food pork and chicken products. However the House of Lords banqueting policy does not have any higher welfare standards in its policy. In 2010 the Welsh Assembly Government buildings in Cardiff agreed a new procurement strategy, which includes buying and selling 100% only free range eggs, chicken and salmon produced to RSPCA welfare standards. This was done after extensive consultation with the staff at the WAG buildings the vast majority of whom voted to approve new procurement standards.

10. Local authorities have been slower to produce standards, but where they have been enacted they can play an important role in encouraging localism and good animal welfare. For the past three years all eggs used in Hampshire schools and care sector establishments have been free-range as well as being sourced locally. In 2010 Hampshire's customers used 725,000 local free-range eggs, not only providing an opportunity of a policy that encourages better animal welfare standards but also local production.

23 March 2011

[1] Eurobarometer No. 229 June 2005 Attitudes of consumers towards the welfare of farmed animal; Eurobarometer 270. March 2007. Attitudes of European citizens towards animal welfare.

[2] European Commission. Action Plan for animal welfare 2006-10.

[3] Eurobarometer 229/63. 2 June 2005. Attitudes of consumers towards the welfare of farmed animals

[4] University of Warwick. 2010. Study to assess if membership of a farm assurance scheme a ffects compliance with anim al welfare legislation and code . Defra project AW0510. accessed 23.3.2011