The latest news from Germany is that the Lidl discount chain (not exactly the sort of place where we’d choose to do our shopping, but that’s no reason not to give credit where credit’s due) is planning to provide consumers with clear information about the livestock farms of its meat suppliers.
From April, in fact, all Lidl fresh meat counters will feature a sort of easy-to-understand ‘livestock farm compass’. The system follows the now familiar criteria used for egg labeling: namely four codes but in reverse order (and here’s hoping this won’t cause confusion). Hence code 1 stands for ‘raised in barns’ in compliance with existing legislation; code 2 for ‘raised in barns plus’, which, according to Lidl, ensures animals more space and manipulable fodder; code 3 for ‘freedom of movement,’ which means that, besides having greater space, animals have had access to a covered outside area and been fed on non-GM fodder: code 4 for ‘organic,’ hence raised in accordance with existing legislation on organic meat, virtually the equivalent of code 0 for eggs (see illustration below).
With this labeling system, Lidl expects consumers to orient their choices towards products from the best livestock farming systems. In this way, it hopes in the long term to help raise animal breeding standards and welfare across the whole sector. Its declared target is to arrive at 50% code 2-labeled products at least by the beginning of 2019 and eventually to eliminate code 2 supplies altogether.
This isn’t large-scale retail’s first initiative in this area. In the middle of January, in fact, Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd introduced the ‘Fair & Gut’ label for fresh chicken products to their branches in South Bavaria and some parts of Hamburg and Berlin. The same two discount chains now intend to finance an initiative to improve animal welfare on their suppliers’ farms.
The upshot is that Greenpeace and the Bioland association of organic vegetable farmers are asking the government to introduce compulsory labels indicating type of livestock farm on all meats commercialized in Germany.
So all’s well then? Not exactly, for if the provision of greater information is more than welcome, just any label is arguably not enough. Maybe it would be a good idea to go a step beyond the compass and adopt something along the lines of our narrative label, the only model that really can give us information about the product we intend to consume. Above all, insofar as the code 1 and code 2-type farms shouldn’t exist at all, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for governments and institutions to start concerning themselves with the state of livestock farms. If they did, maybe we wouldn’t need compasses to guide us.