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Livestock welfare fund

January 13, 2015

Millions of pigs, turkeys and chickens may see their lives improved as a result of a new livestock welfare improvement fund set up by a consortium of German farming, meatpacking and grocery retail industries.

Deutschland Schweine im Stall
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

A coalition of German agriculture, meat packing and grocery retail industries announced in Berlin on Tuesday that it would make about 255 million euros ($301 million) available over the coming three years to pay farmers for voluntary improvements in the treatment of pigs, turkeys and chickens.

The Animal Welfare Initiative ("Initiative Tierwohl" in German) is the industry's response to polls that found 60 percent of German consumers believe it's important to raise farm animals humanely, in accordance with their nature as a species, explained Alexander Hinrichs, the CEO of Initiative Tierwohl. He added, however, that "only 30 percent were willing to pay significantly more" for humanely raised meat.

In 2015, 85 million euros will be made available for disbursement to farmers. That's enough to improve the lives of up to eight million pigs, 300 million chickens and 15 million turkeys, Hinrichs said.

The new fund will be paid for by means of a small surcharge on retail meat sales. Many of Germany's biggest grocery retail chains are participating in the initiative. Retailers like Aldi, Edika, Kaiser's tengelmann, Kaufland, Lidl, Netto, Penny, Real and Rewe, familiar to every German shopper, have agreed to voluntarily contribute four cents per kilogram of meat sold.

"It's up to the retailers if they raise their meat prices to pay for the contribution," said Franz-Martin Rausch, head of German food trading association BVLH.

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Voluntary and discretionary

Participation in the scheme by livestock farmers will also be voluntary. Farmers will be invited to apply for support. They will qualify for funding on condition that they meet basic livestock welfare standards such as responsible use of antibiotics, and then exceed those standards in specific ways that farmers themselves will propose.

For example, pig farmers might commit to giving pigs separate sites for feeding, playing and laying down. Or poultry farmers might commit to using less painful methods for trimming off the tips of turkeys' or chickens' beaks - instead of hot blades, they might use high-intensity infrared treament.

The German Animal Welfare Society welcomed the move. "It's praiseworthy that a farmer who does more than he has to under law for the animals in his care will be rewarded for that," said the society's president Thomas Schröder. However, he said that the implementation of the idea remained inadequate. Animal welfare standards for poultry remain too low, and the payout for participating farmers are small, Schröder added.

The initiative isn't aimed at organic farms, which produce less than one percent of Germany's pork and poultry products. Participating retailers were interested in stimulating improvements in farm animal husbandry among conventional livestock producers, who produce the vast majority of the country's meat.

NZ / sri (dpa, Initiative Tierwohl website)