New Animal Welfare Label

Leaders in the field of animal husbandry, Germany rolls out a new Animal Welfare Label

My daughter has these fun German books, called Wimmel Bücher, which we love looking at together. There is no text; rather each page is a scene in daily life full of minute details.  One of my favorites illustrates life on a farm.  Here, clean, white chickens peck around the dirt as the farmer scatters bird seed; there a couple of cows roam the bucolic countryside. Happy pigs frolic in the mud.  It is all so idyllic, and not at all the picture of a modern day farm.

The Real Story
Are you ready for a surprising statistic? The average German eats
around 60 kilos of meat per year, about double what we ate just 50 years ago.   Due to our ever-increasing appetite for meat, many farms have turned toward factory farming practices. It is hard to put an exact percentage on the meat produced by factory farms in Germany, as there is not one clear definition. However, the number is somewhere between 90 and 97% of meat produced. And sadly, Germany is increasingly becoming the mass meat producer for the world.  We process around 1.2 million hogs each year, much of it for export.

Because of this, animals are forced to adapt to factory farming standards, rather than living a life in accordance with their species. This leads to unnecessary suffering and pain for the animals, as well as unexpected health consequences for us.  Factory farms become breeding grounds for diseases. When thousands of cattle are packed into feedlots full of manure, bacteria can get onto their hides and end up in the slaughterhouses. This can result in thousands of kilos of meat contaminated with E-coli or other bacteria.  Egg-laying hens, due to their crowded living conditions, can quickly spread Salmonella to other hens, which can result in untold numbers of contaminated eggs.

Cramped living quarters on farms has necessitated the widespread use of antibiotics. It is estimated that 96% of chickens are routinely given antibiotics.  The misuse of antibiotics in animal husbandry has contributed to a veritable crisis in germ-resistant bacteria worldwide.

But Germany has set the wheels in motion for change.  Starting January, 2013, a two-tiered animal welfare label will take effect.  This voluntary certification is the first of its kind worldwide. Germany has positioned itself as a leader in animal welfare practices, with the hope that other EU countries will eventually follow.

What Does the New Label Mean for the Consumer?
The label promises standards far higher than current EU guidelines. It indicates to the consumer significant improvements for the treatment of animals, not only during their lives, but also in slaughter and transport practices. A two-tiered approach means that the first level would represent improvements in terms of space, access to natural habitat, and living conditions. The second tier would demand more extensive improvements.

For example the average farm raises 24 chickens in a square meter of space, or about the size of a small shower tub. The first level would require that farmers raise around half that number in the same amount of space. The second level would require even more space per chicken. By giving each animal more space, the common practice of beak searing would decrease, as chickens would be less aggressive.

Isn’t this the same thing as Organic (Bio) animal products?
Organic animal products adhere to EU regulations. The EU organic label signifies a wide range of farming practices, but does not concentrate specifically on animal welfare. If fact, many animal rights advocates complain that animal welfare standards on organic farms are frequently not very different from conventional farming practices. You can read more about Organic animal husbandry practice at http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/organic/animal-welfare/husbandry_en.

Farms applying for the Animal welfare label would not necessarily be organic. In many ways, the Animal welfare label demands more stringent and humane animal husbandry practices.

The Bottom Line
Of course, raising animals humanely translates to far fewer animals per farm, and consequently, higher prices for meat, eggs, and milk.

The question is whether or not consumers would be willing to spend more for these products. Presently, only about 1% of meat sold in Germany is organic. Many people like the idea of humane animal welfare laws but are unwilling to pay for it. This label appeals to the consumer who feels convicted about current animal welfare laws.

If we were to adopt more humane practices on a large scale we, as a population, would have to seriously look at our current meat consumption and make some drastic changes to our diet. To begin with, we could work on reducing our meat consumption to the recommended 300-600g per week.
But at least this is a start.  And when it comes to what we eat, our most powerful vote is the one we make with our fork.

To read more about the new label, click on http://www.tierschutzbund.de/tierschutzlabel.html

Thanks for reading!
Dora Meyer, RN, BSN, MSPH
Health Educator
www.healthy-start.net

Exciting news from Healthy Start! My website has been converted into a food blog! Please click on www.healthy-start.net and be sure to subscribe to receive the latest posts on recipes and health tips. 

Resources:

http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wirtschaft/massentierhaltung-deutsche-fleisch-fabriken-werden-immer-groesser-1.1575786

http://www.tagesspiegel.de/wirtschaft/landwirtschaft-wie-gefaehrlich-ist-massentierhaltung-fuer-verbraucher/6096778.html

http://www.tagesspiegel.de/wirtschaft/landwirtschaft-mehr-kontrollen/6096778-2.html

One Response

  1. Thanks for educating us about these important issues! – Allison

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