RSPCA welfare standards

RSPCA welfare standards

The RSPCA standards have been developed to ensure that all animals are reared, transported and slaughtered according to our higher welfare ideals and have everything required for a better quality of life. Whether they are kept on large or small farms, indoors or free-range, our standards ensure that every aspect of the life of the animal is covered from birth right through to slaughter, including their feed and water requirements, the environment in which they live, how they are handled, their healthcare and how they are transported and slaughtered.

What makes RSPCA Assured standards different?

The standards that we insist farms adhere to are fundamental in maintaining a better standard of life for the animals but what does this really mean? Full versions of our standards for each species can be downloaded, here are a few examples of what makes our standards different from other assurance schemes. 

Farrowing crates: while still legal in the UK, farrowing crates are prohibited on all RSPCA Assured pig farms.  

Tail docking: tail docking of pigs is only permitted under exceptional circumstances on  RSPCA Assured pig farms where there is clear evidence of a tail-biting problem and where the farmer has taken steps to try to address the problem in other ways. 

Environmental enrichment: laying hens, meat chickens, pigs, dairy cows, calves and turkeys must all be supplied with an appropriate amount of species-specific enrichment such as straw and/or objects to engage them during the day.

Dustbathing: laying hens and meat chickens must be provided with material they can use for dustbathing. This is a natural behaviour and one which is important to the animals’ well being.

Raised perches: In England and Wales, we exceed legislation by insisting upon raised perches in laying hen houses to provide the birds with a refuge to rest and preen.

Space: laying hens, meat chickens, beef cattle, sheep, turkeys and pigs, in most cases, must be given more space so that they can move around freely.

How are the RSPCA farm animal welfare standards developed?

All farms on the RSPCA Assured scheme must abide by the RSPCA’s higher welfare standards. These standards are formulated under consultation to ensure they guide the governance of animal welfare in a practical and applicable way. Through collaboration with farmers, vets and scientists, our standards are created to reflect the current on-farm situation and also provide a guiding light for compassionate farmers to work towards. 

What is the process for creating and amending the RSPCA farm animal welfare standards? 

Our standards are working documents that have been adapted and amended over the years to meet the changing needs of the farming industry and to reflect the most up to date understanding of animal welfare needs. We draw information from the following sources:

  1. Scientific research and species-specific veterinary input.
  2. Practical feedback from our field staff, both RSPCA Assured assessors and RSPCA Farm Livestock Officers. 
  3. Standards Technical Advisory Groups(STAGs).
  4. RSPCA Assured scheme members from both large and small farms. 

 The RSPCA’s Farm Animal Department (FAD) then collates this information into amendments and additions to the established standards document.  

Any proposed updates or amendments are then discussed with the species-specific STAG, which comprises a wide range of expertise relating to the particular species and includes scientists, vets and producers. Minor amendments can be approved at this stage and be incorporated into the standards document. 

Major updates are presented to the RSPCA Council’s animal welfare sub-committee for approval. Minor amendments will also make their way here but for purely informative purposes. 

Once approved, a new set of standards are published and sent to all appropriate RSPCA Assured members. Members are given a minimum of three months informing them of any changes, although this can be longer for major changes which may take longer to practically implement.

Where do our welfare standards come from?

Our welfare standards are created in collaboration with RSPCA Standards Technical Advisory Groups (STAGs). These groups of professionals all have specific knowledge and experience working with their particular species. They include vets, farmers, animal welfare scientists, product research scientists and RSPCA field staff who are in the best position to advise and revise our standards to ensure they provide the best care for the animals in a way which is best practical and achievable. 

As well as the STAGs, we also seek advice from a Wider Consultation Group made up of farmers (mostly on the RSPCA Assured scheme) and other relevant industry professionals. See below for why include farmers.  

Each species-specific group's role is to advise on the development of the welfare standards so that they remain at the forefront of farm animal welfare.

It may sound strange that we invite farmers to be part of our STAGs when any changes made to the standards will directly affect how they run their farms but to us, it is the best possible way to get a genuine insight into how farms work. By speaking directly to the farmers, we can see and understand the issues they see every day and ensure that animals will benefit from the standards we’re putting in place. 

What STAGs are there?

Thorough industry knowledge and a genuine experience are fundamental for creating effective welfare standards, that’s why for each of the animal species we assure we have a unique STAG. This means we have a STAG for meat chicken (broilers), egg-laying hens, pullets (young hens up to the point they lay eggs), pigs, dairy cattle, beef cattle, turkeys, beef cows, salmon and trout. 

Who is in our STAGs?

The members are selected based on the specific expertise they bring to the group in different areas of livestock care. Each STAG is composed of the following members:

  • a chairperson
  • RSPCA farm animal welfare specialists
  • RSPCA Assured farmers from larger farms
  • RSPCA Assured farmers from smaller farms
  • animal welfare scientists
  • production scientists
  • agricultural consultants
  • vets with species-specific expertise
  • RSPCA Assured field operatives
  • RSPCA field staff (Farm Livestock Officers)

Why are farmers part of the STAGs

As the people with the best, real-life experience of what it is like working with the animals, we feel that farmers on the RSPCA Assured scheme are among the best qualified to advise on the practical application of the RSPCA’s standards. By involving farmers, we can ensure that our standards are not just best for the animals but are also achievable in practice as well as in theory. 

How our standards are written

Our welfare standards are at the core of everything we do, so it’s essential for us that they are also at the forefront of scientific developments and supported by real industry evidence. When establishing our standards, we aim to promote the highest levels of animal welfare possible which, at the same time, need to be viable. Above all else, our standards strive to provide animals with a ‘good life’.

What are our STAGs for?

Our STAGs allow us to consult with relevant vets, farmers, industry experts, production scientists, and other professionals to ensure our standards are credible and practical. They also provide a forum in which the views, ideas and knowledge of relevant specialists can be gathered and discussed so we can continue to review and update our standards.

Our STAGs also consider new industry information, innovations, and feedback from RSPCA Assured scheme members which they use to advise us when and if they think the standards should be amended or updated. They advise on current industry issues and developments but also keep an eye on the future for any research which might have an effect on our standards or how they are implemented.


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