Consumers want higher animal welfare standards from producer to plate

New survey shows consumers want better welfare standards for farmed animals

Euroconsumers and its members have contributed to a new survey asking consumers what animal welfare standards they expect to see on the farms that produce their meat, dairy and eggs.

Almost all respondents think it’s important to create more legislation on farm animal welfare. As this will have an impact on them, it is crucial to have consumers’ voices heard. This blog takes a deeper dive into what consumers think about farm animal welfare and how they might change their shopping and eating habits in the future.

The survey is a joint effort between BEUC, ICRT and Euroconsumers. It covers nine consumer organisations including Euroconsumers’ members in Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Italy, and was executed with the support of Euroconsumers’ survey team.  In this article we will focus mainly on the findings from our members.

What is farm animal welfare?


Farm animal welfare means animals being kept in a healthy, comfortable environment where they are well fed, safe, and able to express their innate behaviour, without pain or anxiety. Things like space, density of animals, transportation, feed and method of slaughter all contribute to this environment. The EU has some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world, but coverage is uneven and there is room for improvement.

The European Commission’s recent fitness check of the 1998 directive on the protection of farm animals, found that animal welfare has improved in the EU but that updates are needed. These could include: increased access to outdoor space, the introduction of consumer-facing animal welfare labeling, applying higher animal welfare standards to imported products.

But there will be some impact for consumers to factor in which is all the more reason to have their voices heard in this debate. The results of our survey reveal consumers’ eating habits, their concerns about animal welfare, how they feel about potentially paying more for food produced to higher welfare standards, and what will help empower them to improve the farmed food market.

Support for new laws to improve farm animal welfare

An overwhelming majority of consumers across all eight of the countries surveyed supported new laws to ensure the welfare of farmed animals.  In total 89%, almost 9 out of 10 respondents considered this important, and just over half (52%) said it was very important. These figures were consistent with Euroconsumers’ members, with Italy and Portugal topping the highest support of all four countries: 96% thought it was important, while 63% in Italy and 61% in Portugal agreed it was very important.

Transition must be fair to consumers

Of course, it is one thing to give support to new rules and another to consider in detail what additional costs consumers were willing to accept on the price of meat, dairy and eggs.

Across all eight countries surveyed, 69% of respondents said they were willing to pay more for food produced with higher welfare standards, however to some extent and to very varying degrees (up to 5% only for half of those willing to pay more)

Some interesting differences came up with the Euroconsumers member countries. In Spain for example, 42% of respondents said they were not willing to pay any more, compared to only 24% in Italy who felt this way.

There are also variations in the added amount people were comfortable with paying.  Italy and Portugal had similar numbers of people who would pay up to 5% more (38% for Italy and 37% for Portugal).  Italy stood out with a quarter of people willing to pay 10% more, the highest proportion of the four countries and higher than the whole survey average of 21%.

There are some important nuances around who is more likely to accept paying more. Generally, those who care more about animal welfare are much happier paying more. Across all eight countries surveyed, 78% of the 41% who said they were very concerned about farm animal welfare were willing to pay more. Those who eat meat less frequently were also less willing to pay more and, unsurprisingly, people in a comfortable financial situation are more willing to pay more.

… and fair to farmers

The introduction of higher welfare standards, including increasing space for animals are introduced, might come with an impact on existing farms.

Consumers  want the EU to provide funds to support the sector in transitioning to higher welfare conditions. The highest support comes from Italy and Portugal with 81% and 80% of consumers respectively agreeing additional funds from the EU were necessary.

Italy and Spain stood out as keen supporters of equivalent standards being applied to importers of meat, dairy and eggs too. In Italy, 84% of consumers said rules on farm animal welfare should also apply to imports from other world countries.

The issue of EU farmers facing unfair competition from countries with lower standards has caused controversy in the current Mercosur / EU trade deal negotiations which Euroconsumers explored in its recent Start Talking webinar called ‘Protectionism vs Globalisation: is the global trade system failing consumers?’

The power of innovation

Let’s not forget about the need to also explore innovation. Over half of surveyed consumers (55%) are confident that innovation and technology will provide solutions to improve animal welfare without increasing farming costs, in Spain this number is even over 70%.

However, while there is an important and ever evolving role for technology, it remains uncertain whether in the current state of play it will be enough to mitigate all costs related to improving animal welfare.

Clear information not “welfare washing”

Consumers also said a big no thank you to ‘welfare-washing’. Right now, consumers are very skeptical of claims about how animals are farmed. In Portugal, only 17% of those surveyed trusted claims related to animal welfare on the packaging of food products. 88% of respondents overall would respond negatively to if a product displayed false claims – saying they would stop buying the product and discourage others from choosing it.


All of this suggests a gap in the market for a trusted, verified and easy-to-process information system to support consumers to make the decisions that best match their expectations and budgets. Consumers need trustworthy labels to be empowered to improve the market of meat production.


Els Bruggeman, Head of Policy and Enforcement, Euroconsumers

Consumers are familiar with labeling of eggs, which defines different types of egg production and conditions for birds such as caged, barn, free range or organic. Albeit there is still ample room for improvement, i.a on consumers awareness and understanding of it. It’s a standardized approach, accurate and an interesting tool when weighting up what to buy. Other farm products are much more mixed in their messaging, and might say things like ‘welfare farmed’ or other generically unhelpful, unsubstantiated claims.

The model of product labelling like the one used for eggs was a popular option for other products. Across the four Euroconsumer countries, a majority wanted the production labeling method to be extended to products other than eggs, such as meat or milk. This was most popular in Italy with 88% in favour.

Brave steps needed to improve welfare and sustainability across food and farming

The review and potential proposals coincide with high profile battles between the Commission and farmers about stricter legislation under the Farm to Fork strategy, elevating the more complex matter of farmers’ overall financial stability. EU farmers say to  feel burdened by additional requirements which importers don’t have. They say added costs to bring in sustainability measures including higher animal welfare standards will further threaten their future.

In common with much of the sustainability transition, we need to be open about potentially any added financial costs. In a cost-of-living crisis and after a couple of years of surging food prices, arguments about where the cost burden should fall will rage on. The European Union and member states must ensure that the costs of this transition are equitably shared and not borne by consumers only.

Brave steps are needed to keep consumer diets healthy and sustainable into the future and to protect the continents’ precious natural resources.

Consumers have said they want higher standards and have shown a willingness to change – let’s go with them on the journey.

Read full report here

This survey spans Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. The field work took place in November 2023, polling 8,070 people. It is a joint effort between BEUC, ICRT and nine consumer organisations: Altroconsumo (IT), Consumentenbond (NL), CECU (ES), DECO Proteste (PT), Testachats/Testankoop (BE), Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios (ES), Tudatos Vásárlók Egyesülete (HU), Sveriges Konsumenter (SE) and Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (DE). Euroconsumers contributed to developing the questionnaire, and carried out the data collection and statistical analysis. Around 1,000 citizens from each country were involved in the survey, distributed as the general population by age (18-74 years), gender, education level and geographical area.