By Vicky Bond, EU Food Business Manager, Compassion in World Farming
Germany launched its “Initiative Tierwohl” (Animal Welfare Initiative) last year with the aim of improving production conditions for pigs and poultry. According to Dr. Alexander Hinrichs, head of Initiative Tierwohl, the retailer-funded scheme recognizes the need for greater responsibility in meat production, while making animal welfare an integral part of the supply chain.
The scheme is funded by a surcharge of €0.04 per kilo of pig meat sold by participating retailers. These funds are then used to award premiums to producers subject to meeting defined welfare requirements that exceed German legal and quality-assurance requirements. In addition, participating producers must make further, voluntary improvements that can earn the producer between €3 and €9 per animal produced.
It’s a groundbreaking initiative that encourages producers to improve farming conditions while giving them money to cover related costs — something that is often missing when retailers request welfare improvements. Furthermore, the initiative involves the whole supply chain in Germany, from farmers’ associations, to the major meat-processing companies, to 80% of retailers — including the largest ones.
The Animal Welfare Initiative shows it is possible for retailers to come together to promote change across the industry. However, there are a number of issues within the initiative that are serving to limit the magnitude of welfare improvement, while creating confusion among consumers. Resolving these issues and raising welfare standards even higher will be critical to the program’s continued success.
One problem is that more producers qualify to participate than the initiative has funds to support. As a result, only half of the qualified producers who applied have been accepted.
Furthermore, many producers who were accepted from the first wave of applicants already met the initiative’s criteria, so they did not have to invest in improving welfare standards. Consequently, the initiative’s impact on incremental welfare improvements is somewhat limited.
Related to this, larger and newer farms were over-represented among the successful applicants, as they were more likely to have the financial and infrastructural resources to meet the program’s standards. Smaller, older farms, which many consumers favor, typically have to make more of an effort to qualify, but may not have the money to invest in new housing and other welfare improvements.
“Challenges aside, the Animal Welfare Initiative provides a positive example of how to meet growing demands for animal welfare, while spreading the costs more equitably among producers, retailers and consumers.”
Another concern relates to inconsistencies between the program’s criteria, on the one side, and the purchasing policies of slaughterhouses and retailers on the other.
For example, as alternatives to surgical castration, the scheme permits entire-male rearing, boar-taint vaccination and castration under anesthesia, awarding €1.50 for each animal produced according to these guidelines. But before committing to entire-male rearing or boar-taint vaccination under the initiative, producers must ensure that slaughterhouses will accept their animals.
This often creates a dilemma, as most abattoirs and retailers in Germany will accept little to no meat from entire boars, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated. Therefore, unless farmers already have an agreement in place with their slaughterhouses, it is almost impossible for them to opt for boar fattening under the Animal Welfare Initiative, either with or without vaccination. While the option of castrating under anesthesia remains, this option is not adequate to alleviate all the pain and health risks associated with the procedure, and thus hardly constitutes a welfare improvement.
A further challenge with Germany’s Animal Welfare Initiative is the lack of consumer transparency. Conscientious consumers are the driving force behind retailers’ demands for higher welfare standards, but the initiative provides no consumer labeling. Thus, consumers have no way of knowing if the product they are buying comes from a producer that has enrolled on the scheme, or what improvements that producer has made.
Consumers should also be aware that while the initiative’s criteria are decidedly an improvement on national quality-assurance standards, they still aren’t high enough. Although European Council Directive 2008/120/EC sets minimum welfare conditions, including the provision of manipulable material and the prohibition of particular mutilations, these laws aren’t being enforced. As a result, tail docking and teeth clipping are still routinely practiced in Germany — and not strictly prohibited under the scheme.
A positive example
These challenges aside, the initiative provides a positive example of how to meet growing demands for animal welfare, while spreading the costs more equitably among producers, retailers and consumers. By ensuring farmers are compensated for making welfare improvements, the scheme allows them to stay competitive in a challenging market for ever-cheaper meat.
Overall, the initiative should be applauded for setting a positive example that other countries can learn from and follow. With some fine-tuning, the initiative could do even more to turn the challenge of animal welfare into an opportunity for all links of the pork supply chain.