The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is overhauling food labelling regulations, which include animal welfare claims on meat, dairy, and egg packaging like “free range” and “grass fed.” But instead of cracking down on the epidemic of false animal welfare claims, the government plans to weaken regulations and introduce new loopholes.
The CFIA wants to make animal welfare and related “consumer values” claims its lowest enforcement priority. In other words, the agency won’t proactively define and regulate claims about how farmed animals are treated, and may not even bother investigating companies for blatantly false animal welfare claims.
Instead, the CFIA wants to make it consumers’ responsibility to contact companies themselves to find out what their animal welfare claims mean. According to the CFIA, industry has a “legal and ethical responsibility” to ensure labelling claims are not misleading. But consumers have no way of verifying information provided by companies, which stand to benefit financially from misleading consumers.
If consumers are concerned about false labelling claims made by companies, the CFIA is proposing that consumers make their complaints directly to the companies themselves. In other words, if a company’s packaging uses misleading imagery or language, consumers have to first complain to the company. The CFIA will only pay attention to a consumer complaint if a company has provided an insufficient response, and will only investigate once multiple complaints are received.
Animal farming is notoriously secretive. It takes place on private property in windowless facilities, with virtually no government oversight. Consumers have no ability to monitor these industries ourselves, which is why we expect our government to step in and protect consumers from being duped by false claims.
Labelling is a crucial component of informed consumer choices. Consumers should be able to rely on the words and images used on labels being accurate and truthful. And in fact, polling shows 82 percent of consumers want clearer animal welfare labelling.
Previous work by Animal Justice has highlighted an epidemic of false animal welfare claims, misinformed consumers, and a nonexistent government response. We’ve filed consumer protection complaints against slaughterhouse Maple Lodge Farms for claiming to treat chickens humanely even while on probation for illegal animal cruelty; against supermarket chain Safeway for marketing chicken meat as “certified humane,” even though birds are crowded in dark barns and deprived of anything that makes life worth living; and against the Dairy Farmers of Canada for running deceptive dairy ads disguised as public health announcements.
Meanwhile, the European Union understands the importance of addressing animal welfare labelling, recognizing that if consumers lack information, “there is very little motivation for more producers to improve animal welfare and market their products accordingly.”
It’s not too late to tell the CFIA to monitor animal welfare labelling claims! Here’s what to do: Simply go to their online survey before March 15. Skip ahead to “Stream 2,” which is 88% of the way through the survey.
For Question 2, select “no.”
For Question 2i), explain that animal farming lacks transparency and government must ensure consumers are able to make informed choices.
For Question 2ii), explain that welfare claims must be regulated, and they must be the responsibility of government (not industry and consumers).
If you’re pressed for time, you could also simply fill in our petition here.
Thank you for taking action for animals.
Image: Egg-laying hens inside a “cage-free” farm, courtesy Direct Action Everywhere.