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New animal-welfare label to keep piglets’ tails curly

The Danish Minister for Environment and Food, Esben Lunde Larsen, is establishing a new animal-welfare label. Starred meat will make it easier for Danish consumers to consider animal welfare when buying their pork.

Published 12. May 2016

From summer 2017, when consumers buy pork, they will be guided by a new three-level animal-welfare label that makes it easier for them to choose ham, pork chops and minced pork with the level of animal welfare that suits their convictions and their purse. The Danish Ministry of Environment and Food is behind the label as well as a number of organisations such as the Danish Animal Welfare Society, DOSO, the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, Danish Crown, Dansk Supermarked Group, De Samvirkende Købmænd (trade association for Danish grocers), Danske Slagtermestre (Danish butchers association), Lidl and Aldi. Moreover, the ideas in the scheme are supported by the Animal Welfare Council and the Danish Veterinary Association.

The Minister for Environment and Food, Esben Lunde Larsen, is looking forward to getting an animal-welfare label that makes it easier for consumers to support animal welfare:  

"I'm very pleased that we're getting a Danish animal-welfare label, so that consumers who are willing to pay an additional charge can choose animal-welfare-approved pork. Not everyone can afford to buy the most expensive cuts or organic products. However, eight in ten Danes say that they would like to pay slightly more money to guarantee the animals a better life. This will now be possible with the option to choose between meat labelled with stars in three different categories," said Esben Lunde Larsen.

The new animal-welfare label will make it more attractive for farmers to invest in animal-welfare improvements at their farms. At the same time, the retail trade will be able to accommodate demands for better welfare from consumers. This will mean that animal welfare will become a new competitive parameter throughout the food chain to the benefit of livestock as well as innovation in the Danish food sector.

Denmark's new animal-welfare label will first be introduced for pigs, and later it will be extended to other livestock. As it takes time for producers to improve conditions in pens to ensure that they live up to the requirements of the label, the first roast pork with a 1-star animal-welfare label will not be available in supermarkets until mid-2017.

Currently, only 2-3% of total Danish pig production is under conditions corresponding to the requirements of the label at the two-star and three-star levels. Of all the production supplied to the Danish market, only 15-20% would currently receive animal-welfare stars.  The increased production of one-starred products in particular is expected to increase the percentage of starred meat on the Danish market to about 50% over the next few years.

About 20% of the pork sold in Denmark in retail businesses is imported, primarily from other EU countries, due to lower prices. Products outside Denmark will also be able to receive the animal-welfare label, if they fulfil the requirements.

"The animal-welfare label makes it easier to tell consumers about the different levels of animal welfare. Better animal welfare has to start somewhere and evolve from there. It's important that we get started now, so that the lives of more animals can be improved. And this is where the market can help. It's about values and attitudes, and legislation alone cannot do it all," said Esben Lunde Larsen.

With the new animal-welfare production, Danish pig producers will also be able to meet and stimulate demand from export markets, which in turn will increase the number of pigs benefitting from the scheme.

The animal-welfare label is part of the political agreement about a food and agriculture package entered into between the Danish government, the Danish People's Party, Liberal Alliance and the Conservative People's Party.

Statements by the political parties behind the food and agriculture package: René Christensen, Danish People's Party: 
"The star label will ensure far fewer pigs have their tails docked and it will allow more sows to roam freely throughout their lives. It is very important to the Danish People's Party that we improve conditions for pigs."

Carsten Bach, Liberal Alliance: 
"Danish food production is world class and consumers can now help improve animal welfare for pigs by making an active choice. Consumers can decide whether to buy meat with no, one, two or three stars. This means that consumers themselves can influence the selection of pork in supermarkets. This is the way forward in improving animal welfare."

Rasmus Jarlov, Conservative People's Party: 
“Starred meat will increase animal welfare for all pigs produced in Denmark, and not only for the very small percentage of pigs that are currently sold as free-range pork. The label will make more Danish consumers aware of the fact that they can choose animal-welfare-improved products. Danish products should be recognised globally for their high quality and good production conditions, and the new label can help with this."

Facts about the animal-welfare label

The animal-welfare label imposes strict requirements for pig farmers
In order for pork to be labelled with the animal-welfare label, the conditions for pigs on farms must live up to a number of basic requirements which are considerably stricter than the current statutory requirements in Denmark and in the EU, and thereby stricter than the requirements in standard or conventional production:

- Sows must be able to roam freely throughout the production process
- Pigs must have a curly tail, which means that they must have whole tails without tail docking and tail biting
- Farmers must give pigs fresh straw every day
- Pigs must have more space as they grow
- Pigs must not be transported for more than eight hours

The criteria for the animal-welfare label were prepared by experts from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. 

Follow the stars

The new animal-welfare label is a voluntary scheme with three levels ranging from one to three stars. The more stars the better the welfare. One star indicates that the basic requirements of the label have been met. Two and three stars indicate that supplementary requirements for more space and outdoor areas have been met.

  • One star: Free-range sows, curly tail (no tail docking or tail biting), more space and fresh straw
  • Two stars: The same basic requirements as for one star + requirements for more space
  • Three stars: The same basic requirements as for one star + requirements for even more space and outdoor areas

Products with one star are new and can be produced at a reasonable additional charge of 15-20%. Products with two stars or three stars already exist – Antonius, Bornholmergrisen, Den Go’e Gris (two stars) and organic and free-range products (three stars) – but they are only sold in small quantities because of their high price.

The animal-welfare label has been on the way for more than 18 months, developed by animal-welfare organisations, food shops, producers and abattoirs, which all offer broad support for the soon-to-be-launched label. Some organisations did not wish to enrol on the new label scheme, because they want even stricter requirements for animal welfare. Stricter requirements will result in a price that only few consumers are willing to pay and this will improve welfare for just a few pigs. If consumers and the relevant stakeholders end up supporting more animal welfare, the criteria can be tightened and made stricter at a later stage.

Statements by some of the organisations behind the label: 
The Danish Animal Welfare Society, DOSO is pleased about the new animal-welfare label, and also welcomes the new one-star production.

"There are requirements that sows be able to roam freely, that pigs have fresh straw to mess about in and that tail docking is not allowed. These three requirements are not being adequately satisfied in conventional pig production, but are important for pig welfare," said Peter Mollerup, Chairman of DOSO.

Dansk Supermarked Group is among the stakeholders who have helped develop the animal-welfare label: "All our supermarket chains focus on animal welfare, as we are experiencing an increased interest in animal welfare among our customers. The animal-welfare label will now make it clear to the ordinary consumer who increasingly cares about how the animals have lived their lives. Currently, there are only small quantities of Danish animal-welfare products on the market, and therefore we hope to involve more suppliers and producers through the new animal-welfare label. More products on the market will result in lower prices for consumers, so in the long term more animal welfare in our supermarkets will benefit animals, farmers, customers and us," said Helene Regnell, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Public Affairs at Dansk Supermarked Group.

The Danish Agriculture & Food Council supports the animal-welfare label. Karen Hækkerup, CEO at the Danish Agriculture & Food Council said:

"Danish producers are concerned about pig welfare. The animal-welfare label will increase transparency, and it will become much easier for consumers to make an active choice at the supermarket. I hope that the label will gain full support. And that consumers will welcome the label and thereby ensure an even better life for more pigs."

Further information:
Mette Thorn, Chief of Press, Ministry of Environment and Food: tel.: +45 2561 7170, e-mail: