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Farm Assurance Schemes & Animal Welfare – How the standards compare

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the welfare of animals produced for food and are confused by the labelling of animal products. Certification has an important role to play in encouraging and monitoring compliance with legal requirements, as well as enabling consumers to choose ethically produced food.

Most animals farmed in the UK are reared in accordance with the standards of farm assurance schemes, yet these can vary greatly in their requirements for how animals are kept and cared for. This report looks in detail at the welfare standards of the major farm assurance schemes in England and Scotland to see how they compare to each other and to the minimum welfare standards commonly adopted within the UK farming industry.

The schemes were analysed on their performance on a range of criteria grouped into five sets:

  • Environment (referring to the animals’ environment)
  • Husbandry
  • Stockmanship, handling, transport & slaughter
  • Genetics & breeding
  • Auditing

The Soil Association performs best overall across all species covered by the analysis and The Scottish Organic Producers Association and RSPCA schemes also offer significant welfare benefits compared with minimum legal requirements and standard industry practice for all species.

The Red Tractor, Quality Meat Scotland, Lion Code and Scottish Finfish Code schemes, however, generally offer few welfare benefits beyond compliance with minimum legal requirements and standard industry practice in the UK. They do, however, often offer significant welfare benefits over minimum legal requirements in other countries.

There is still significant room for improvement for all of the schemes – no scheme currently achieves a gold rating overall for any species.

It is recommended that all of the schemes work towards incorporating assessment of welfare outcomes into their standards, including targets for key outcome measures. Compassion welcomes the positive action the RSPCA Freedom Food, Soil Association and the University of Bristol are taking to develop and pilot the use of a welfare outcomes assessment.

To find out more read the report:

Farm Assurance Schemes & Animal Welfare: Executive Summary

Farm Assurance Schemes & Animal Welfare: Full Report

Farm Assurance Schemes & Animal Welfare: Report Appendices