EU consumers are willing to pay more for foods and other products sourced from producers who adhere to animal welfare standards, according to a survey by the European Commission.
The survey highlights the increasing importance consumers are giving to ethically sourced products, making it important for companies to ensure they are tracking and tracing the source of their supplies.
The EU has been working on bringing in stricter animal welfare standards throughout the bloc, in part guided by results from such surveys.
The current survey of all 27 member states, along with Turkey and Croatia, found that 62 per cent of respondents said that they would change their shopping habits in order to access more animal welfare friendly goods.
"EU consumers are willing to make an extra effort to buy animal welfare friendly products, even if this means changing where they shop or paying more for goods," the Commission said yesterday in reporting on the survey.
The survey also revealed that citizens do not feel that they are provided with this option at the moment, due to insufficient information on animal welfare in food production.
It found that citizens feel they lack the necessary information to distinguish between products on animal welfare grounds. As a result animal welfare labelling is also becoming more important, the Commission noted.
A large majority of respondents backed the idea of labelling or logos to indicate the animal welfare standards met in producing the foods they buy, the Commission said.
The Eurobarometer shows that animal welfare is an issue which EU citizens rank highly, giving it an 8 out of 10 on average in terms of importance.
The survey also shows that citizens are in favour of further incentives to promote animal welfare in the EU. About 70 per cent of respondents supported the idea of financial rewards for producers who apply high animal welfare standards
There was also strong consensus (89 per cent) that imports should have to be produced under the same animal welfare conditions as those originating in the EU.
Over half of those surveyed perceived food produced in keeping with high animal welfare standards to be healthier than other food, while 48 per cent said they thought it to be better quality.
"This link in people's minds between animal welfare and the quality and safety of food means that consumers are more inclined towards animal welfare friendly products," the Commission concluded.
New EU animal welfare rules that came into effect earlier this year could have the effect of increasing the cost of transporting supplies to slaughtering and processing plants.
Among the new safeguards for animals being introduced are higher standards for vehicles and equipment, and stricter requirements for those dealing with animals in transport.
The new EU regulation also has measures to ensure the better enforcement of EU rules, such as a requirement that transporters use satellite navigation systems to help regulators track animals being transported throughout the bloc.
The regulation also contains new measures to protect young animals. New born animals and females within one week of giving birth may not be transported at all.
The regulation is part of a series of measures the European Commission has been putting in place to increase animal welfare.
Last year the European Commission said it would propose creating a special "animal welfare" label for meat and fish products. The labelling scheme would put more responsibilities on companies to ensure they are getting their supplies from approved sources.
The proposed food label is part of a five-year EU plan to promote animal welfare. Among the proposals in the action plan, published in January 2006, is an "EU animal welfare label" for better promotion of products, such as chicken, which are produced respecting animal welfare requirements.
A clear label identifying the level of welfare applied could prove an effective marketing tool for companies and improve the information available to consumers in the EU and internationally when making purchase choices.