The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is urging the public to respond to the UK government’s food labelling consultation and demand clearer labelling on animal products.

The animal welfare charity said this will improve farm animal welfare. The eight-week consultation was launched in March and will remain open until May 7, 2024.

It centres on how clearer labels on pork, chicken and eggs could be produced in order to provide the public with transparency over the food they buy.

Mandatory labelling indicating how an animal has been reared isn’t currently required on animal products in the food industry making it hard to make an informed choice on the supermarket aisles, the RSCPA said.

RSPCA’s head of public affairs, David Bowles, said: “We all want to think that farm animals have a good life and no one wants to unwittingly contribute to low animal welfare and support practices that they don’t agree with.

“But currently, the poor labelling of food products means people lack the information to know what they’re buying.

“The public has a right to clear and consistent labelling so they can make an informed choice about the products they buy.”

Bowles said packets with images of animals surrounded by rolling green hills have “misled the public for too long” when the reality for some of these animals looks very different.

“It’s made it increasingly difficult for consumers to ensure they are buying higher welfare when labels are often confusing and misleading.”

Clear labelling

Many millions of animals are farmed in the UK and the lives of these animals, and the conditions they experience, can vary greatly, the charity said.

An RSCPA survey carried out last year found that more than four out of five people (81%) think having a level of knowledge about the condition the animals have been reared and kept in is important when purchasing products, and 79% of people believe that they can improve animal welfare through their purchasing habits.

“By having clear labelling on products, the public can make an informed choice and we hope that this will see interest and demand for higher welfare products increase, which will in turn drive up farm animal welfare standards here in the UK,” Bowles said.

“This is vital if we are to achieve a more sustainable, welfare-focused farming future where intensive farming and outdated practices such as hens and sows in cages become a thing of the past.”

Currently, method of production labelling is only available on shell eggs with terms such as ‘free-range’, ‘barn’ or ‘caged hens’ now becoming important indicators for consumers on which eggs to buy, the RSPCA said.

Since this was introduced in 2004, there has been an increase in sales of cage-free eggs from around 30% up to 60% of products sold.

“Consumer buying behaviour with eggs proves that, given the choice, the public want to purchase higher welfare food and we’re pleased that this consultation will widen the scope of egg labelling to processed foods containing eggs as an ingredient and not just shell eggs, as it currently stands,” Bowles said.

“Greater transparency about these products will be a lifeline to hardworking, higher welfare British farmers who are at risk of being undercut by cheap, low welfare imported products.

“We urge the public to have their say in this consultation and help make mandatory animal welfare labelling a reality.”