Skip to Content

The History of RSPCA Assured

RSPCA Assured has been improving the lives of farmed animals for over three decades. In that time, we’ve worked with 1,000s of UK farmers and all of the UK’s biggest food retailers.

Sometime in the early 90s, Alastair Mews, Head of Farm Animals and Deputy Chief Vet at the RSPCA, and Dr Mike Baxter, an external technical advisor spoke about the possibility of an ethical food label. They wanted to let consumers choose animal products from higher welfare farms and vote with their wallets. The idea would allow customer demand to drive progress in welfare by directly supporting farmers going the extra mile.

Over the next few years, the RSPCA conducted surveys to gauge public opinion and to see whether higher welfare products were viable. At the same time, they spoke to farmers and food retailers across the UK to see if there was sufficient interest in an assurance scheme. And in 1994, Freedom Food was launched. The scheme broke new ground by being the first to focus solely on farm animal welfare as well as being the first to require the implementation of welfare standards developed by the RSPCA.

Why Freedom Food?

The name came from the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s (FAWC) Five Freedoms, the basis of our welfare standards.

Freedom Food was revolutionary, as it introduced requirements like farm-specific veterinary health and welfare plans. There were no formulated standards for assessing farms when we launched and the only species on our scheme were laying hens and pigs. Back then assessments were carried out by our solitary assessor who checked to make sure everything on the farm was looking OK.

Luckily for us, the scheme was quickly taken up by retailers like Co-op and Tesco, and producers like Bowes of Norfolk (pigs) and Deans Foods (eggs).


The RSPCA Assured Timeline from Inception to the Present Day
Freedom Food launches with RSPCA standards for pigs and for laying hens. Welfare standards developed for sheep and dairy cows.

These included provisions for environmental enrichment objects such as brushes, so the cows can groom and scratch themselves.

Welfare standards developed for meat chickens and turkeys.

These include provisions that ensure more space and enrichment activities.

Welfare standards developed for farmed ducks require the provision of bathing water. Welfare standards for salmon developed ensuring more space and regulating the way fish needed are handled.

Loch Duart came onboard as our first salmon member.

Ten Years

We grew to include 1,700 members.

We had seven full-time RSPCA Assured assessors and one contract assessor.

natural light became mandatory for meat chickens along with the requirement to only use higher welfare slower-growing broilers

Thanks to Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Fowl Dinners and Chicken Out! campaigns, support for RSPCA Assured grew.

Welfare Outcome Assessments introduced, starting with laying hens. RSPCA Assured assessors began collecting information on key welfare outcomes such as the rate of feather loss in hens, and tail biting in pigs.

CCTV used in abattoirs to monitor welfare during the slaughter process for all RSPCA Assured members.

London 2012 Olympics organisers pledged to use 20% RSPCA Assured chicken and pork during the games.

Sainsbury’s offers 100% RSPCA Assured cage-free eggs across own-label products.

McDonald’s UK switches to only using 100% RSPCA Assured pork.

RSPCA Welfare standards developed for veal calves, animals be kept in groups on straw bedding, with plenty of space and a good diet.

Twenty Years

New look & new name. Freedom Food became RSPCA Assured, and we got more colourful. 

Sainsbury’s offers all RSPCA Assured turkey and chicken across own range of products.

RSPCA welfare standards developed for rainbow trout. Like salmon, these include provisions for more space and how the animals are handled.

Farrowing crates banned on all RSPCA Assured farms.

The advisory groups that help the RSPCA develop its welfare standards were renamed Standards Technical Advisory Groups (STAGs).

The first nationally available RSPCA Assured labelled milk on sale in M&S. Co-op sources 100% of its own brand pork products from RSPCA Assured providers.

RSPCA Assured launches 'Eat Less, Eat Better' campaign encouraging people to eat less meat, fish, eggs and dairy from low-welfare farms and to always buy higher-welfare products.

Twenty-five Years 

We celebrate a quarter of a century of improving the lives of farm animals.

Sainsbury’s offers all RSPCA Assured across their entire range of own pork products. Marks & Spencers expands its RSPCA Assured range to include all fresh eggs, pork, farmed salmon and trout, Oakham Gold chicken and milk.
Back to top