Defra proposals for a good-better-best welfare label on food products have come in for flak from the industry.

Following the launch of a 12-week consultation period last week, the proposed bronze, silver and gold labelling system has reignited the debate over intensive farming and what constitutes good welfare.

The proposals form a key plank of the government's Animal Welfare Delivery Strategy.

"Everyone who keeps or works with animals can help improve their care," said welfare minister Ben Bradshaw last week at the consultation launch.

However, the BRC said shoppers were already faced with a barrage of welfare labelling, including organic, free-range and the RSPCA's Freedom Food.

"We already have a number of labels out there to identify welfare, from the Red Tractor upwards, so I'm not sure what else this will bring," said a spokesman.

"We don't want consumers to think they are getting a lower quality of product if they choose a bronze label."

The Soil Association was equally scathing, albeit for the opposite reason.

"Defra's just trying to give a veneer of respectability to poor welfare standards," a spokesman said, adding it would be more accurate if labels were green, amber and red to illustrate the impact on animals.

Even Assured Food Standards, which runs the Red Tractor, lined up to criticise Bradshaw's plans.

It said the simplicity of the labels concealed a quagmire of wrangling over how to measure welfare standards and what made animals' lives better.

"This is not going to happen by the end of 2007, nor even by the end of the decade," said chief executive David Clarke.

He questioned the point of launching a strategy that closely mirrored work being done by Brussels in its Welfare Quality Project

Defra said the concept was still at an early stage and urged industry to comment on its proposals. It argued it would clear up consumer confusion rather than add to it, as critics have suggested.