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The Dutch SPA’s solution to improve animal welfare in farming
The Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA) is the largest animal protection organisation in the Netherlands, with over 160,000 members. Besides 350 paid employees about 30,000 volunteers are active for the society. The Dutch SPA is member of Eurogroup for Animals, the umbrella organisation of the leading animal welfare groups in the EU member states.
Why the Better Life label?
From the existing farming systems the Dutch SPA values organic and free range systems the most. But less than 1% of the 450 million animals annually produced in Dutch farming are kept in these systems. The Dutch SPA also wants to improve the welfare of the other 99% of production animals that often live in very intensive not very animal friendly systems. One way to do that is to work with the industry in setting up market segments with products derived from animals that are kept in a more animal friendly way. This led to the development of the Better Life label.
A label with different levels
The Better Life label is simple. Research shows that it is the best known food label among Dutch consumers. It has three levels to resemble the process of ‘raising the bar’ and to offer farmers and consumers the possibility to improve animal welfare step by step.
If a product doesn’t have the Better Life label, i.e. no stars, it is a product derived form a regular, intensive farmingsystem with no added animal welfare, or a farming system that has not been certified by the Dutch SPA.
What’s the difference between the stars?
Regular farming with additional requirements to improve the most urgent animal welfare issues per animal species, e.g. slower growing breeds of broilers, pigs with more space and enrichment and veal calves with more roughage feed and prevention of anaemia.
The animals get access to an outdoor area and many of the animal welfare issues need to be resolved or need further improvement.
Is equal to organic farming or comparable productionsystems
In 2007 the Dutch SPA started a pilot with the Better Life label on chicken meat derived from a slower growing breed of broilers. The broilers got more space, enrichment materials (straw bales) and a covered outdoor run. This strategy of the labelling of meat by de Dutch SPA resulted in some (internal) discussions, but after an evaluation the annual general meeting concluded in December 2007 that the Better Life label could improve the life of millions of farm animals and decided to continue and extend working with it.
The requirements are drafted based on scientific data e.g. from the EFSA Scientific Panel on Animal Healthand Animal Welfare. Additionally they are based on comparable, existing schemes such as RSPCA Assured label from the RSPCA in the UK and Label Rouge in France. Finally the Dutch SPA also takes into account what is practically and economically feasible in the different animal sectors and public opinion.
The Dutch SPA is scheme owner for the Better Life label. The Dutch SPA is responsible for the requirements, the general policy, political issues and for communication about the label. To stay independent the Dutch SPA doesn’t receive compensation for its work for the label.
For the assessment of participants and for quality assurance, auditing and overseeing certification bodies a separate foundation, ‘the Better Life label foundation’, has been set up.
The auditing of farms, slaughterhouses etc. is done by independent certification bodies that work in accordance with the EU accreditation rules. To limit the costs for participants these audits are mostly carried out by the same auditors that already audit other quality assurance programs. During the same audit they can also audit compliance to the Better Life label requirements. The farmers only pay the certification body for the audit. The subsequent links in the production chain, i.e. slaughterplants, food processors and retailers pay a yearly fee for the work of the Better Life label foundation.
Response of the industry
In the past retail didn’t do much marketing with regard to animal welfare, because who was going to believe their claims? Retailers know there is a latent desire for better animal welfare amongst many of their customers and they would need to address it sooner or later.
Immediately after the start of the Better Life label in 2007 many retailers and food producers showed their interest and in a few years time many started to produce and sell products with the Better Life label. All of the large Dutch retailers have transferred all their fresh pork to at least 1 star of the Better Life label. Almost all other supermarket chains, including the discounters, sell more and more products with the Better Life label.
The Dutch SPA’s message, communicated through its label is: if you want to eat meat, eat responsibly and watch for this label to take animal welfare into account. The retail is free to use the label for promotion as long as the info on welfare is correct.
Results so far
Over 1,651 farms, 52 slaughter plants, 17 egg packing stations, more than 400 food processors and 19 Dutch supermarket chains participate in the Better Life scheme. Since the start in 2007 more than 100 million farm animals lived under improved welfare conditions thanks to the Better Life scheme.
In 2017 the turnover of products with the Better Life labelhas increased 50% compared to 2016 to 1,4 billion euro’s.
So far the Better Life scheme has been very successful.The Dutch SPA wants to continue that success and improve animal welfare by raising the animal welfare requirements step by step.The Dutch SPA wants to expand the sales of Better Life products to improve the economic situations for farmers and processors. For instance: getting supermarkets to decide to not only sell fresh meat from Better Life pig carcasses which comprises only 30% of the carcass, but to sell cold cuts from these carcasses as well. This raises the use of the Better Life pig carcass from 30 to 80%. The remainder gets sold as regular pork. The Dutch SPA, together with the Dutch society for Nature and Environment and Dutch Bird Protection, is looking into the possibility of expanding the Better Life scheme with environmental requirements to make the Better Life label a more overall, sustainable label.
The Dutch SPA is co-operating with animal welfare organisations in the EU that have comparable animal welfare labels, such as the RSPCA from the UK and the Deutsche Tierschutzbund in Germany.
Everybody a winner
When producing and consuming more animal friendly products everybody is a winner:
- The animals: Improvement of their welfare
- Farmers and industry: More possibilities to transfer to animal friendlier production and higher margins.
- The retail: More possibilities to distinguish.
- The consumer: More choice in responsible, conscientious and affordable animal friendlier products.
- The Dutch SPA: Helping many farm animals to get a better life.