RSPCA plans for farm animal welfare

A new RSPCA system to measure welfare standards could be implemented into the Freedom Food assurance scheme by early 2008.

The welfare outcomes assessment procedure is being trialled on some Freedom Food farms on pigs, laying hens and dairy cattle units to measure the health and welfare of farm animals before it is incorporated into the Freedom Food scheme. It follows years of RSPCA commissioned research at the University of Bristol.

Julia Wrathall, head of the RSPCA's farm animal department, said development and trialling of the welfare measurement was nearing completion, and that it should bring benefits for animals and farmers alike.

"Through the research and our own experience on-farm, we have identified key signs or 'indicators' of health and welfare for different farm animal species," said Dr Wrathall. "By looking at the prevalence and nature of the various indicators during a farm visit, we can gain an understanding of what might need to be changed in the animals' environment or management in order to improve their welfare."

She continued: "However, this system is not all about finding potential problems - it can also help confirm that farmers are looking after their livestock well. It could also help to identify potential problems at an early stage and allow them to be nipped in the bud."

Dr Wrathall added that while to most stock-keepers much of this was common sense, this was the first time it had been scientifically researched and a comprehensive, objective system of measurement developed.

She said: "Through our Freedom Food scheme the RSPCA has already blazed a trail for farm animal welfare by giving due recognition and in many cases improved marketing opportunities to farmers who keep their animals to higher welfare standards. We are now hoping to use scientific research to add another dimension to the care provided to farm animals which will be unique to the Freedom Food scheme.

"It was the RSPCA that first commissioned the work on animal welfare outcomes in 1999 and we are delighted and very encouraged that it has ignited interest and similar studies across the whole livestock farming industry in the UK and beyond."