There is an urgent need to transform our food consumption and diet towards a greener food system with focus on animal welfare, climate change and biodiversity loss.
Each year more than 11 million live pigs are sent from Denmark to destinations around Europe to finally end on the dinner table as ham or sausages. The transports often last more than 8 hours and the pigs are exposed to severe distress in the form of injuries, stress, overheating or cold – in some cases resulting in death. Vulnerable animals such as calves are sent on equally long transports even though these young animals are not yet able to drink by themselves. The majority of all Danish dairy cows are never allowed to graze as they are kept indoor all their lives. Conditions, that causes leg and hoofs problems among other issues. Fast growing broilers also suffer with leg problems, as the broilers grow so fast that they cannot carry their own bodyweight. Millions of egg laying hens are kept in small cages without possibility to live out their natural behaviour. Living conditions, you also see for tons of fish in aquaculture.
These cases are just some examples of how the current food system has massive negative impact on the welfare for many millions of animals. However, animals are sentient beings, and consequently we have an ethical, moral and legal obligation to treat them as such.
As we are entering a new era of a sustainable and resilient food system it is not an option to continue to produce food relying on intensive animal production and massive consumption of animal products. Our food policy needs rethinking.
A new EU food policy must acknowledge animal welfare as an integral part of a sustainable and resilient food system, and it needs to take climate change and biodiversity loss into account as well. Like the EU Commission states in its Farm to Fork Strategy: “There is an urgent need to …..increase organic farming, improve animal welfare, and reverse biodiversity loss.”
In Denmark two-thirds of our land area is farmed and 60 % of the land is used for growing corps for animal production. We need a transition towards a much larger organic production of plant-based food, and we need a transition towards a significantly smaller scale of meat production. Further, we must aim to produce animal products with a high level of animal welfare, i.e. methods of production characterized by free range, more space, no mutilations, more adjusted and robust breeds, short periods of transport and humane slaughter. By producing less but better meat, the EU can accommodate the need for a sustainable and resilient food system with a high level of animal welfare.
Good animal welfare is also expected by consumers. To quote the Farm to Fork Strategy. “It is also clear that citizens want this” [ed.: better animal welfare]. Similarly, consumers are increasingly focusing on – and expecting – products that are at the same time healthy, climate and biodiversity friendly.
Being a conscious consumer needs to be much easier, and the EU should encourage the consumption of less but better meat and green alternatives. Changing food consumption patterns requires initiatives on the supply and the demand side.
A new food policy should secure consumers easy access to attractive, affordable, fresh and locally produced products through stimulating organic production of plant-based food and organic extensive farming. This presupposes a close coupling between the Food Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy.
On the demand side it is important to provide clear and high-quality information to ease consumers’ choice of healthy and sustainable food to foster more plant-based consumption. The EU Commission points out various measures, among others labelling schemes. Each of these have relevant elements, but we need a more holistic view of the Europeans’ plate. In Eurogroup for Animals we point to a new way of labelling food that would make the consumers’ choice much easier. We call the label “Method-of-Production+” (MoP+). The label will combine information on method of production and animal welfare based on a core set of animal welfare indicators. An example of method-of-production information is the marking of shell eggs solid in the EU (Intensive indoor, standard indoor, extensive indoor, free range).
The MoP+ label will be a multilevel label. We envision the label to be mandatory so all products, and not just the products that perform well on animal welfare, are labelled. The label will provide high quality and objective information to the consumers.
Furthermore, it will set improvement targets easily identifiable for producers to encourage them to aim for the highest level of the label. MoP+ is one way towards a food transformation in the EU and a future with greener, healthier food with the highest level of animal welfare.
Additionally, The Common Agricultural Policy should support a transition towards organic, plant-based consumption. One obvious way is funding promotion of plant-based products rather than meat and dairy products.
With the Farm to Fork Strategy the agenda towards a future sustainable food system has been set. A system that combines the urgent need to improve animal welfare, health and food quality and to help preserve biodiversity and environment.
Let us seize this golden opportunity to make real improvements for farm animals and fish in our food system!