A re-definition of 'free-range' in labelling

23 January 2014        


Charles Tannock (ECR)

The EU’s definition of free-range egg standards specifically states that ‘hens must have continuous daytime access to open-air runs’. However, this requirement does not by any means prevent a producer from restricting this access for a limited period of time to the morning hours, in accordance with usual good farming practice.

‘Free-range’ was intended to mean ‘free roaming’, yet ‘the maximum stocking density of open-air runs must not be greater than 2 500 hens per hectare of ground available to the hens or one hen per 4 m2 at all times. However, where at least 10 m2 per hen is available and where rotation is practised and hens are given even access to the whole area over the flock’s life, each paddock used must at any time assure at least 2.5 m2 per hen’. This has inevitably loosened the terms of the definition of ‘free-range’ and, as a consequence, the term has now lost its real meaning and is far from correct.

1. This now well-established term has become firmly cemented in the public mindset as a definition of high standards of animal welfare. Does the Commission not feel that there is a need to redefine what has now become an exceptionally loose definition of what are essentially loose standards when it comes to farming practices?

2. Given that the Commission is so trapped in a mindset of ‘minimum’ requirements and ‘minimum’ standards, perhaps it is now time to look beyond these minimum standards and strive for greater welfare standards?

3. The EU has yet to adopt mobility standards for other livestock. Does the Commission intend to extend legislation to cover other produce, in particular as regards milk cows being allowed sufficient grazing time each day?

26 February 2014


Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission

When assessing animal welfare, the question will always arise as to how a given procedure or housing system affects the animals in question and to conclude on what is considered acceptable both from a scientific and ethical perspective. An important parameter to keep in mind when considering animal welfare is good husbandry practice, such as the rotation of open-air-runs for all species or the protection of layers in the morning hours.

The end result is then often a minimum base line level to be achieved by all. However this does not prevent the application of standards which go beyond this minimum. Today, indicators are increasingly used to measure the animals’ welfare state. Such indicators are already embedded in EU legislation in addition to the minimum standards (Directive 2007/43/EC(1)). The EU animal welfare strategy 2012-2015(2) will consider the overall introduction of such indicators which would help improve the welfare of animals.

The Commission is currently not proposing to draft new animal welfare legislation for any farmed animal species.

(1) Council Directive 2007/43/EC laying down minimum rules for the protection of chickens kept for meat production; OJ L 182, 12.7.2007, p 19.
(2) http://ec.europa.eu/food/animal/welfare/actionplan/actionplan_en.htm