Monday, 30 August 2010

Lifestyle: Know your labels.


Food labelling should be simple but it is not. Virtually every product on the supermarket shelf has its own unique set of colour codes or logos claiming to be healthy or free from one harmful thing or another. It can be a minefield working out which product is healthier to buy and labelling for animal welfare is no different. In fact, some labels you will find on meat products are positively misleading!

What to beware of

Red tractor logo

If you care about where your meat comes from beware of the Red Tractorlogo. The Red Tractor scheme, run by Assured Food Standards claims to promote good farming practices but in reality often offers little assurance to consumers beyond simple compliance with minimum legal requirements.

Lion mark logo

The Lion Mark is important for food safety, ensuring your eggs are safe to eat, but guarantees nothing about the conditions in which the eggs were laid.

What do these labels mean?

  • These food labels basically confirm compliance with minimum legal regulations
  • Almost all British produce will have these labels
  • The standards do nothing to prevent the serious welfare issues of confinement in cages, high stocking densities, fast-growing breeds and many mutilations
  • In fact some of the standards can be lower than DEFRA recommendations (which are not enforceable by law), e.g. high stocking density so chickens suffer from issues connected with overcrowding
  • One or two of the standards are higher than minimum legal regulations e.g. castration of pigs is not allowed

Beware clever marketing

Beware terms like "Farm Fresh." They are nothing more than a marketing ploy and mean nothing in terms of animal welfare.

What to look for

Organic labels

Organic Farmers & Growers logo

Organic is a land-based farming system using no chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Animals have outdoor access and other higher welfare e.g. later weaning in pigs. There are currently nine different organisations who can give organic certification.

Soil Association logo

The Soil Association Organic Standard provides the highest welfare levels in the UK e.g. smaller flock sizes for chickens and no live exporting of dairy calves.

Freedom Food

RSPCA Freedom Food logo

Freedom Food is the RSPCA's labelling and assurance scheme dedicated to improving welfare standards for farm animals. The scheme covers both indoor and outdoor rearing systems and ensures that greater space and bedding material are provided.

Store Standards

Waitrose Select Farm logo

Other stores might have their own standards which can go above other standards e.g. Waitrose and M&S whose basic level meat and poultry generally have a higher standard of welfare.

Whole Foods labelling systemStores such as Whole Foods Market have their own labelling system with a good base level and very high welfare at best e.g. no mutilations and very extensive free-range (see their standards brochure).


Animals have access to the outdoors for at least part of their life.There are EU regulations about what free-range means for laying hens and broilers (meat chickens) but there are no EU regulations for free-range pork and so pigs could be indoors for some of their lives.

Other labels


If you are buying eggs look for organic, free-range, and if possible tree cover e.g. Sainsbury’s woodland eggs.

Chicken and turkey

If you are buying chicken meat look for organic, free-range, or if not these then good indoor chicken such as Freedom Food and higher welfare products e.g. Tesco Willow Farm Chicken.

Pork, ham, bacon

If you're buying pigmeat make sure the animal was born and reared outdoors. There are some good indoor systems for rearing pigs – look out for provision of bedding in the standards.

Beef and veal

If you're buying beef or veal buy British and especially British organic, look out for grass fed on the label.

Dairy produce

Look out for organic, preferably Soil Association certified, milk, yogurt, cheese and butter. Otherwise, look for own-label dairy produce from supermarkets who have also stopped calf-exports such as M&S and Tesco.

(source: compassion in world farming -

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