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In recent years the issue of animal welfare in intensive livestock production systems has been subjected to increasing attention from media, politicians and the wider public. This increasing rejection of concerning meat production by western society has placed food manufactures along the meat supply chain in a difficult situation characterized by conflicting demands. On the one hand, the farming and food industries operate economically in a field where cost degression and growth are required in order to remain internationally competitive. Accordingly, in the past the focus of farms and firms has been primarily on the exploitation of economies of scale, whereas to a certain extent aspects of animal welfare have been neglected. On the other hand, consumer awareness of food products is constantly changing, and there has been a continuous trend towards the purchase and consumption of foods that have been produced in a more animal friendly way. But there is a paucity of clearly understandable information on animal welfare standards that would enable consumers to select products of animal origin on the basis of a conscious purchase decision. Besides an increase in legislative regulation, improved animal welfare standards are most frequently achieved through the establishment of so-called animal welfare labels to meet the expectations of society and to allow consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. However, so far, there has been no informed assessment of the various approaches to improve animal welfare. It is, therefore, the aim of this paper to provide an assessment of selected European animal welfare labels for poultry on the basis of a developed set of criteria and thereby to contribute to better informing consumers and to further improve existing approaches. The criteria-based evaluation shows, that there are significant differences between the labels investigated regarding the improvement of animal welfare standards. The results obtained are consequently of far-reaching importance for both consumers and enterprises that are considering entering the market segment for animal welfare products.


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