Animal welfare improving on UK farms

Welfare standards are on the rise within UK livestock production, according to the RSPCA. The organisation's Freedom Food scheme has seen a 46% increase in the number of animals produced under its guidelines.

It claims a massive 532m farm animals are now covered under the scheme and the upward trend shows no sign of abating, with a further 13,000 animals coming on aboard in the last month alone.

The RSPCA claimed the figures show that consumers are continuing to plump for higher welfare products, even in the face of the recession.

It highlights a recent consumer survey from IGD, the food and grocery research body, that found that animal welfare standards have risen up the list of priorities for shoppers when choosing food and grocery products.

In January 2010, 19% of shoppers said that animal welfare standards influenced their shopping decisions, compared with just 10% in 2006.

The Freedom Food scheme has seen animal numbers shoot up from 363m at the end of 2008 to 532m at the end of 2009.

Freedom Food saw an annual rise in animal numbers from more than 363 million at the end of 2008 to 532 million at the end of last year.  This means that nearly 170 million more animals are now benefitting from being reared to the RSPCA’s higher welfare standards compared to just over a year ago.

Pigs is one area which has seen considerable activity, showing a 23% growth from nearly 1.6m in 2008 to more than 1.9m a year later, which the RSPCA claims accounts for 20% of UK production.

It said the pig result followed a year of separate campaigns by the RSPCA (‘Rooting for Pigs’) and Jamie Oliver (‘Jamie Saves Our Bacon’ on Channel 4) to improve pig welfare.

Ducks have also jumped by 84%, with Freedom Foods now accounting for 42% of production, while turkeys have increased 17%, representing 7% of UK production.

Leigh Grant, chief executive of Freedom Food, said: “Faced with the credit crunch we were worried the number of animals under Freedom Food would also take a downturn.

“But thanks to consistent consumer demand for higher welfare, the opposite has happened.  More than 530 million animals are now being reared to the RSPCA’s welfare standards, compared to one million when the scheme began 15 years ago. We had more applications from farmers wanting to join the scheme last year than ever before.

“It’s incredibly encouraging that in spite of the economic decline, people don’t want to compromise on animal welfare and are still prepared to pay a little more for Freedom Food labelled products.  And as we start to head out of recession I’ve no doubt we will see the trend accelerate even more.”