RT welfare standards under fire

Red Tractor welfare standards have come under fire from two animal welfare organisations in a new consumer guide to be published in the run-up to Christmas.

Compassion in World Farming and OneKind focused on turkey production methods and have published a guide to higher welfare turkey to help consumers decide which product they want to buy for the Christmas dinner.

The guide ranks the various food assurance schemes from Bronze, which is acceptable, to Gold, which offers the highest welfare standards

According to the research, the best schemes are the organic offering from the Soil Association, and the Scottish Organic Producers Association, along with the RSPCA’s Freedom Food indoor and free-range labels.

However, it said the label that scored most poorly was the Red Tractor Quality British Turkey, which it said offered little more than compliance with minimum legislative requirements.

Libby Anderson, policy director of OneKind, said: “The majority of animals in this country are reared in accordance with the standards of a farm assurance scheme, all of which claim to ensure high standards of animal welfare, but which vary a great deal in their requirements of how animals are kept and cared for.

“OneKind encourages people who eat meat to choose higher-welfare systems and to consider eating less meat. By harnessing the tremendous power they wield via their shopping baskets, consumers can not only benefit their own health, but help improve the welfare of farmed animals as well.”

Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming, said: “These days, consumers place a much greater emphasis on the welfare of farm animals and on the processes used to manufacture the food they eat. Although many people are concerned about value for money in these difficult economic times, research has shown that animal welfare and food quality remain equally important issues to consumers.

“Christmas is a time that is traditionally centred around eating and drinking, and therefore these concerns are amplified. However, the lack of clear information on the differing welfare standards displayed on food labels means shoppers cannot feel assured they are making the ethical purchasing choice they intend.  This report will be hugely beneficial in assisting consumers in making empowered ethical choices.”

However, David Clarke, chief executive of Red Tractor Assurance, hit back at the group’s report: “Consumers have access to a fantastic range of products at different price points to meet their own preferences and budgets. Despite what OneKind and CIWF might say, only a small minority of people are inclined – or indeed able in the current difficult economic climate – to pay the very significant premium prices for the turkeys that they advocate.  
“Our mission at Red Tractor is to ensure that the product is produced and processed to strict standards, no matter what production system they come from. Red Tractor standards cover a wide range of topics including hygiene and food safety in addition to comprehensive standards dealing with welfare.  
“CIWF knows very well that standards on Red Tractor farms are better than minimum legal requirements and that there is a huge amount of meat and poultry on sale in the UK that is not produced to Red Tractor standards.

"Of course, there is no way of knowing what standards of production were applied to many of these products, so CIWF and OneKind did not include them in their analysis. In effect they are penalising the honesty and transparency of Red Tractor standards and assurances.”