RSPCA attacks animal welfare laws

The RSPCA has pledged its commitment to increasing the proportion of farm animals reared under higher welfare conditions, saying that the current laws are not up to scratch.  

Dr Julia Wrathall, head of the RSPCA’s farm animals science team, said: “The RSPCA does not believe welfare laws are good enough to ensure all farm animals have a good quality of life and are humanely transported and slaughtered.”

She continued: “That is why we have developed our own farm animal welfare standards, informed by scientific research and practical experience, which thousands of farmers, livestock hauliers and abattoirs have signed up to through the Freedom Food assurance scheme.”

The charity today (23 February) released figures from its Freedom Food assurance scheme, which show that ethical consumption is rising and that shoppers are continuing to support higher-welfare meat despite the current economic climate.

It reported a 52% increase in animals farmed under its higher-welfare label scheme over the last five years, with Freedom Food products in supermarkets increasing by 30% in the last two years. The number of Freedom Food pigs has grown nearly 84% since 2006 to 2.7m, up 16% from last year. The scheme now accounts for about 28% of all UK pig production.

The proportion of Freedom Food chickens also rose in the last five years, increasing by 60% (or 40m birds). Last year saw a rise of 13% rise last year.  The label now covers around 5% of the 860m chickens farmed every year in the UK. However, the number of Freedom Food turkeys dipped by 10% last year, while higher-welfare duck production also fell by 28%. It now accounts for 36% of UK duck production.

Leigh Grant, chief executive of RSPCA Freedom Food, said: “The trend for ethical purchasing has had a huge impact on farm animal welfare. Consistent consumer demand for Freedom Food products has helped millions more farm animals have a better life than they did just five years ago.

“But despite this growth, only around 8% of the UK’s billion farm animals are under Freedom Food. And with some animals, such as ducks and turkeys, dropping in number last year, there is clearly still much more work to do.”

The RSPCA is urging consumers to choose the Freedom Farm logo to ensure they support higher welfare conditions.

Wrathall said: “When shopping for products such as eggs, sausages and chicken, anyone who cares about animals can help by choosing those that have the Freedom Food logo on them, which means they come from farms inspected to the RSPCA’s strict animal welfare standards.

“There are more than 900 million farm animals reared in the UK every year, about 56 times the number of pet cats and dogs, so even a small improvement in the way livestock is kept can have a huge impact.”

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF)’s head of food business, Katy Read, said it was promising to see that Freedom Food buyers have stayed loyal even through the recession.

She said: “We are pleased to see consumers increasingly opting for meat and dairy produce that carries the RSPCA Freedom Food label. CIWF supports Freedom Food as a label, as it gives consumers the choice to purchase food from higher welfare systems.

“However, recent surveys suggest that consumers are still confused by the labelling supplied in supermarkets. 51% state that they can rarely, if ever, identify whether the meat or milk that they are buying comes from a production system that is animal welfare friendly.
“Research shows that 74% of UK consumers would like written information or logos on packaging to help them identify higher welfare foods. We hope that consumers continue to buy food that is labelled as Freedom Food, whatever the economic climate.”

The RSPCA’s Freedom Food scheme is the only UK food labelling and farm assurance scheme dedicated to farm animal welfare. The scheme approves farms, hauliers and abattoirs to strict RSPCA farm animal welfare standards, covering animals from birth to slaughter and offering a robust traceability system. There are now more than 900 different Freedom Food labeled product lines available in major retailers, independents and online.   

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