Talulah Gaunt of Compassion in World Farming explains how to choose ‘better’ for animal welfare.
Over 70 billion animals are farmed for food worldwide each year. Around 70% of these animals are kept in intensive systems that severely impact their welfare, damage the environment and pose serious health risks to humans. Whilst an overall reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy in typical ‘western’ diets is necessary, so is the support of ‘better’ practices, i.e. those with a higher level of animal welfare.
‘Better’ welfare practices meet the mental and physical needs of an animal, as well as allowing them to express natural behaviours. This greatly improves an animal’s welfare throughout its lifetime and is a meaningful step up from the worst intensive systems that inhibit good welfare.
For those who wish to consume animal products, making the switch to buying ‘better’ can be daunting. With confusing labelling and greenwashing galore, it’s no wonder that many feel unable to make a difference through their shopping habits.
However there are key labelling requirements and assurance schemes consumers can look out for.
Look out for labels
Throughout the EU there is mandatory method of production labelling for eggs sold in boxes so customers can easily see and understand the systems used to produce those eggs: caged, barn, free range, or organic.
There are also strict regulations surrounding the use of organic and free range labels on any meat or dairy product. Intensively farmed products, on the other hand, do not require any labelling.
Farm assurance schemes give consumers the reassurance that not only has the product been produced under legislative standards, but that a third party has audited its production. The majority of assurance schemes will have an emphasis on food safety and provenance, but some do ensure higher welfare potential. It’s important to know which assurance schemes enable good welfare and which allow for intensive farming methods to be classed as ‘acceptable’.
Examples of higher welfare assurance schemes
For a consumer to be sure they are purchasing a higher welfare product they should also look out for the following:
Soil Association is one of the organic standards which offer many welfare benefits exceeding standard industry practice, including prohibiting confinement systems, ensuring bedding and/or environmental enrichment, ensuring free-range access with shade and shelter, specifying stunning and slaughter practices and monitoring welfare through outcome measures. Compassion recommends consumers look out for this logo when shopping or eating out.
RSPCA Assured is the RSPCA's labelling and assurance scheme dedicated to improving welfare standards for farm animals. The scheme covers both indoor and outdoor rearing systems and ensures that greater space, bedding and enrichment materials are provided. In addition, on-farm health and welfare monitoring is required and stunning and slaughter processes are specified. The standards offer a number of welfare benefits relative to standard industry practice and Compassion recommends consumers look out for this logo when shopping or eating out.
Examples of UK quality assurance standards:
The Red Tractor scheme, run by Assured Food Standards, certifies the food was produced in Britain and to certain quality standards for food safety, hygiene, and the environment, and reflects standard industry practice in the UK. Some of the standards benefit animal welfare by going beyond minimum legislation, such as prohibiting castration of meat pigs, a slightly reduced stocking density for meat chickens and the requirement for on-farm health and welfare monitoring. However in some circumstances the standards inadequately reflect the legislation, such as provision for manipulable material for pigs, and also do not address key welfare issues not reflected in legislation, such as confinement of sows during farrowing and permanent housing and tethering of dairy cows.
The Lion Mark
The Lion Mark appears on eggs and ensures they meet food safety criteria. However the standard generally only ensures minimum legislative requirements for animal welfare, so permits the use of ‘enriched cages’ for hens as well as barn and free-range systems. It guarantees the eggs were laid in Britain.
Both the Red tractor and Lion Mark schemes offer free-range production, so their logos may appear on free-range meat, dairy and eggs. However they do also appear on intensively farmed products.
Compassionate Food Guide
For those wishing to find out more detail on different animal products a free shopping guide is available from Compassion in World Farming. You can download or order your free printed copy today
Compassion in World Farming’s Food Business team works with the food industry to improve the lives of millions of farm animals. Through this work, awards are given to companies who have taken steps to improve animals’ lives by switching to ‘better’ practices. To see a full list of the Good Farm Animal Welfare Award winners, and for further information, click here.
If you’d like to know more about a specific company, and their approach to farm animal welfare, Compassion also recommends people get in touch with companies directly. This is often the best route for further detailed information, and lets the company know that you care!
Talulah Gaunt is EU Food Business Manager at Compassion in World Farming.