30 August 2022

Opinion of the month: Animal husbandry labelling system – “Vital questions left unanswered”

Ulf Klewitz, Executive Director Buying and Production Bread & Bakery, Cold Cuts & Fresh Meat, on the German Federal government’s plans for a national animal husbandry labelling system and the missed opportunity for transforming livestock farming.

When Federal Minister of Agriculture, Cem Özdemir, presented the cornerstones of a national animal husbandry labelling system in June, he promised nothing less than to “future-proof” German agriculture. Following proposals by his predecessors Christian Schmidt and Julia Klöckner, the viability of a national animal husbandry labelling system is once again the subject of debate. The challenges facing agriculture have increased significantly in recent years, making it all the more important to ensure that there is a market-compliant transformation of livestock farming in Germany.

And yet the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s current draft legislation still leaves vital questions unanswered. If our agriculture is to be future-proofed, then there has to be a much stronger link between animal husbandry labelling and origin labelling. Greater attention must be paid to the clearly ambitious 5D standard for pork (requiring that animals are born, raised, fattened, slaughtered and processed in Germany), and, crucially, a precise approach to funding must be established.

If our agriculture is to be future-proofed, then there has to be a much stronger link between animal husbandry labelling and origin labelling.

Ulf Klewitz
Ulf Klewitz

As food retailers, our responsibility for products starts even before they appear on the shelves of our stores, with production itself. As a founding member of the Animal Welfare Initiative, we have been pursuing an industry-wide solution to improve animal welfare standards since 2015 and actively support the agricultural sector in improving standards in their pens beyond the statutory requirements. As far back as 2018, the industry developed a four-stage animal husbandry labelling system for the entire own-brand fresh meat product range, including pigs as well as cattle and poultry. In our many years of close collaboration with farmers, scientists and NGOs, and through industry-wide discussions, we have learned a great deal about effective animal husbandry labelling.

What needs to happen to make the animal husbandry labelling system more effective?

We believe it is crucial to highlight the importance of other sales channels. The food retail industry accounts for just one third of the total meat produced, while the restaurant and catering sectors and the wholesale industry are excluded from mandatory labelling. Why is that the case? This is not only counterproductive for animal welfare, but it also ignores consumer demand for food transparency.

Furthermore, the draft legislation is limited to the fattening of pigs. We urgently need to extend its scope to incorporate the entire life cycle of the animal to provide incentives for improving welfare conditions, such as in piglet rearing or sow management. Special attention needs to be paid to the welfare of animals in these areas in particular. In addition, the food retail sector’s established system of animal husbandry labelling has already successfully demonstrated that an extension to include other species of animal is entirely possible, not to mention necessary. When it comes to the requirements for processed products, such as sausage products, we in retail are already a decisive step ahead. So far, regulations such as these are missing from the draft legislation. A precise schedule for implementation is urgently needed.

Reliable financial commitments – including public funds – will ensure that farmers invest in more animal-friendly pens. The solution cannot simply be for the food retail business to bear all of the additional expense. Without a precise approach to funding that incorporates all the market players, it will not be possible to subsidise the investment needed to upgrade pens nor to finance the additional ongoing costs over the coming years. Here, we must also not overlook the amendments required to construction and approval regulations, which have been entirely side-lined in the current draft. Without longer term investment protection in the form of clear and reliable financing commitments, a national animal husbandry labelling system will not gain any traction.

The current draft legislation represents an initial starting point – but one that still urgently needs to be fleshed out in order to be effective.

Ulf Klewitz
Ulf Klewitz

The extent to which a robust framework of controls is being established to retain an overview of downstream steps and cover foreign companies is also unclear. Livestock farmers have legitimate concerns about whether and to what extent priority will be given to foreign produce in the long term. Ultimately, the binding force of the legislation only applies to the domestic market; for companies abroad, only voluntary labelling is mentioned.

We intrinsically associate animals reared in Germany with quality. The optimal solution would therefore be to combine the systems for labelling animal husbandry and origin. This not only meets consumers’ demands to know ‘where it comes from’, but also means that we can move more quickly towards achieving the 5D target of only selling fresh pork of German origin. In the long term, this will require uniform, EU-wide legislation, and a clear German position needs to come first.

Nonetheless, the REWE Group supports the attempt to combine consumer transparency with agricultural viability and animal welfare through this solution. The current draft legislation represents an initial starting point – but one that still urgently needs to be fleshed out in order to be effective. We would be happy to contribute our practical expertise to this process.

Ulf Klewitz

Ulf Klewitz

Executive Director Buying and Production Bread & Bakery, Cold Cuts & Fresh Meat

About REWE Group

The cooperatively organized REWE Group is one of the leading trade and tourism groups in Germany and Europe. In 2020, the company generated a total external turnover of around 75 billion euros. Founded in 1927, REWE Group operates with 380,000 employees in 21 European countries.

The sales lines include REWE, REWE CENTER and BILLA as well as BILLA PLUS and ADEG supermarkets and consumer stores, the discounter PENNY, IKI, the drugstores BIPA and the toom Baumarkt DIY stores. The company also operates convenience stores REWE To Go and the e-commerce activities REWE Lieferservice and Zooroyal. The Lekkerland Group comprises the wholesale activities of the business group in the area of on-the-go consumption.Travel and tourism under the umbrella of DER Touristik Group includes the tour operators DERTOUR, Jahn Reisen, ITS, Meiers Weltreisen, Travelix, Kuoni, Helvetic Tours, ITS Coop Travel, Billa Reisen, Koning Aap, Apollo, Exim Tours and Fischer as well as more than 2,300 travel agencies (e.g. DERTOUR, DERPART, Kuoni, Exim, Fischer and cooperation partners), the hotel brands Sentido, Aldiana, Calimera, Cooee, and the online travel portal Prijsvrij Vakanties.