How can we get consumers to buy sustainable animal products? And how can farmers be rewarded for their efforts to improve sustainability and animal welfare? In 2020, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) hosted a series of workshops to identify obstacles and create solutions to these questions – together. We welcomed participants from businesses, civil-society organisations and governments from fellow Northwest European countries.
From June to September, a series of country-based workshops took place in Germany, Denmark, France, and Belgium. You find the highlights below.
Germany – 24 June 2020
- When asked, people indicate that they prefer, buy, and consume only (or mainly) products of the highest animal welfare standards. However, reality shows that consumers are price-sensitive and this leads to purchases of products with lower animal-welfare standards.
- State- or European-owned labels should carefully take into consideration existing programs and focus on what is missing in the market.
- For retailers, it is very important that a level playing field exists. Regulation should be international and it should be applied throughout Europe.
- There is a need for collaboration in the full supply chain and with NGOs.
France – 16 September 2020
- The expectations of consumers, supermarkets, and processing companies are changing very quickly.
- The investments that farmers make on their farms need to be profitable for a long time but it is difficult to imagine what the future holds.
- Consumers need to be willing to pay a fair price (e.g. incorporating the cost of production).
- We need an international standard in trade rules. This is very important if you want high quality and high sustainability in Europe, without the import of products with a lower standard.
- Look at your geography, look at the footprint you leave behind, and make sure you are not exceeding these boundaries.
Denmark – 17 September 2020
- Internationalization and harmonization of criteria sets for animal welfare and sustainability is very important. At the moment there are so many different ways to calculate things and it’s very important that Europe and participating countries invest in having ways to monitor and calculate environmental and animal welfare levels in a harmonized way.
- When we are discussing the climate, animal welfare, biodiversity, air, water, antibiotics, and people, we must have validated data.
- Initiatives that we are looking into, should fit at least the European level but also a bigger global level.
- NGOs, retailers, food industry, producers, producer organizations, and the authorities have a common goal to secure sustainability in the food system to help consumers choose the better product.
- It is a good thing that the European commission will study options for European animal-welfare labelling.
Belgium – 8 October 2020
- If consumers are willing to pay a little bit extra, it isn’t too complicated to have farmers deliver accordingly.
- Cultured meat or cultured biomass in general can be a way to meet the growing request for proteins in a more sustainable way. This can also be a way to have close cooperation between plant-based meat industries and conventional meat industries.
- The more you work with nature, the less costs you have as nature is providing a lot of services.
- All participants in the chain from farm to fork have a shared responsibility to make the sustainable production of animal proteins work.
- Consumers should be made aware which part of sustainability they are promoting with their purchase. We should not just focus on one aspect of sustainability.
In October, four thematic workshops took place. The themes were selected on the basis of what came up in the country-based workshops. The following themes were addressed:
- Animal-welfare and sustainability labelling
- Financing the transition to sustainable animal products
- The role of the government
- Towards a level playing field in the EU
The central finding throughout all workshops was that shared definitions and transparent and validated data are required to enable big steps towards sustainability. Below, you find the highlights per workshop in some more detail. (These statements do not necessarily reflect a consensus in the group.)
Animal welfare and sustainability labelling – 21 October 2020
- Make a system that we can all understand in Europe. All labels cannot be harmonized into one. The goal is to create a shared MOP system, with space for existing labels that are different. The system should be based on a rough order that specifies the method of production (the way an animal was raised).
- Improve animal welfare for as many animals as possible.
- A prerequisite for trustworthy labelling is good, validated data. If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
- Sustainability labelling is also important, but should not immediately be included in animal-welfare labelling.
Financing the transition to sustainable animal products – 22 October 2020
- We need to communicate more with a positive tone about what farmers are doing. There are a lot of initiatives that are not known to consumers and as businesses, we need to show them to the consumers.
- The challenge next decade: to create a sustainable food chain but still a productive food chain.
- The question is not what banks need, but what farmers need to improve their sustainability and a sustainable cash flow.
- True price is a tool in the toolbox (but not the only tool).
- An EU or across-the-border benchmark or level of recognition would be very useful to refer to and associate with.
The role of the government – 28 October 2020
- The government has a role to play. It is necessary to have a strategy to transform the industry. Consumers need orientation. The market itself cannot do this all alone.
- Governments should get market actors and other stakeholders together to motivate them to make more efforts for sustainability.
- The EU has to set the common standards, but they should be enforced by national governments.
Towards a level playing field in the EU – 29 October 2020
- A level playing field is not necessarily created by prohibiting certain practices. A shared understanding when it comes to information and communication plays a very important role. Consumers need to have clear information and communication.
- Selling sustainable products to different markets can trigger interest in sustainable supply chains.
- We should find methods that promote frontrunners.
In November, three follow-up meetings to the thematic workshops took place. During these follow-up meetings, process proposals were formulated for presentation during the ASAP conference.
The process proposals