But how? How can individuals make a difference against the decisions of giant supermarket chains and the entire food industry?
The answer is simple. Supermarket shelves are stocked with the products we tell them we want to buy, and we tell them this every time we go shopping. You can decide what your supermarket sells.
Don’t believe us? Think about free-range eggs. The public’s demand for cage-free eggs in the nineties was so great that they now make up the majority of all eggs found on shelves in UK supermarkets. This change was brought about by customers insisting that shops stock free-range eggs and then persistently buying them.
“Customers often don't realise how powerful they are. By choosing to buy higher welfare RSPCA Assured products, they can directly impact supermarket buying decisions. Retailers and brands track customer shopping behaviour to identify trends and ensure they're catering to demand.
Just look at free-range eggs. Over the last twenty years, customers have increasingly picked free-range eggs over caged eggs, which has led to many supermarkets stocking only free-range eggs. This can, and will, happen with many other products if customers choose higher welfare every time that they shop.”
We would like to see all farm animals, not just egg-laying hens, raised to higher welfare standards, but for the moment, that’s just not possible. One of the reasons for this, according to supermarkets, is that shoppers simply aren’t willing to pay the higher price for higher welfare.
Raising animals to lower welfare standards is more cost-efficient. Keeping them in barren, overcrowded conditions is more economical and allows supermarkets to keep the price down and remain competitive. But it comes at a cost, a cost that is paid by the animals.
Why do we need higher welfare?
We often hear people say that assurance labels shouldn’t be necessary, that all animals should be raised to better standards. The industry response to this is that farming animals to higher welfare standards costs more, and customers just aren't willing to pay. While it is true that the costs are higher, they are not that much higher.
However, on the supermarket shelf, the price difference appears far more significant, especially when compared to the price of a very low product, for example, ‘cheap chicken’. As a dinner table staple, supermarkets will often price chicken below the profit threshold just to get customers in the door, knowing that after that they will go on to purchase more items.
The truth is, every time we buy cheap chicken or another economy meat or dairy product, we are sending a message to supermarkets and suppliers that lower welfare is fine as long as it saves us a few quid.
Is buying British Red Tractor or Lion Code enough to support higher welfare?
Sadly, no. While assurance labels like Red Tractor and Lion Code do have their merits, they don’t focus on animal welfare the way RSPCA Assured or other organic labels do. Pigs on Red Tractor farms, for example, can be kept on bare floors and the use of farrowing crates is still permitted. Red Tractor labelled chicken could come from birds that have been specially selected to grow more quickly, and eggs bearing the Lion Code logo on their boxes could well have come from hens kept in cages.
How can you make a difference to farm animal welfare?
The only way to be sure the products you’re buying come from animals raised to higher welfare standards is to look for the logo. When you see the RSPCA Assured label or the Soil Association logo on your shopping, you know that the animals were raised according to higher welfare standards.
Whenever you buy a higher welfare product, whether it’s free-range eggs, chicken breasts, bacon, or sausages, you’re sending a message to supermarkets and the farming industry that you care. That you don’t support the exploitation of farm animals for a slightly lower shopping bill. You are letting them know that farm animal welfare is important to you.
When you choose higher welfare products, the farmer who supplies them is paid a premium, and ensuring that farmers are paid a fair price helps to ensure that they have money to invest in infrastructure and improvements needed to improve the welfare of the animals.
“Making an informed choice to buy higher welfare is, of course, beneficial to the animals but also to your own sense of wellbeing, as it lets you know that you are doing your bit. But beyond this, we can also acknowledge the positive benefits to the farmer and the reduced impact our shopping choices have on biodiversity.”
How much of a difference does it really make?
Every time you put your hand in your pocket, you make a difference. Your purchases have effects, and you can decide whether you are going to make a positive difference to farm animal welfare or not.
On average, each year in the UK, we consume around 79 fish and twelve land animals per person (“Effects of Diet Choices”). Every time, you pay for RSPCA Assured pork, you are letting the supermarkets know that you don’t support the use of farrowing crates. Whenever you pay more for RSPCA Assured labelled chicken, you send a signal to the farming industry that the use of faster-growing chicken breeds is something you don’t support.
Higher welfare costs more, so how can you afford to buy?
There’s no denying that higher welfare animal products cost more. That’s why we are encouraging people to eat less and eat better. By choosing plant-based options sometimes, we are free, as are our wallets, to pay more for higher welfare products.
By reducing our meat and dairy consumption, and choosing to only eat higher welfare, we are not only making the healthy choice for us but also a better choice for the environment and for the animals.
Thousands of people are now adopting a reducetarian lifestyle and cutting down on the meat they eat. For more information on how you can eat less and eat better and you can also download our free meal planner booklet.