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What do ‘high standards’ really mean?

Higher welfare standards mean animals have better lives. The RSPCA Assured logo means the farm animals all have enough food and water, a comfortable living environment that meets their physical and behavioural needs, they are handled with care and, when the time comes, are humanely slaughtered.

What difference do higher welfare standards actually make?

Animals have better lives:

  • They have not been genetically selected to suffer needlessly so they grow faster
  • They do not have to compete for access to good quality food and water
  • They are not kept in cages or crates that restrict their movement, they have plenty of space and light
  • They have access to clean comfortable litter and bedding and their living areas are airy and well ventilated
  • All animals are free to perform natural active behaviours that help keep them mentally and physically fit and healthy
  • Where appropriate, the animals can go outdoors

Animals receive better care:

  • Well-trained stock-keepers know how to look after the animals and handle them with care
  • They receive humane transport and slaughter, including pre-stunning

The difference to pigs

For instance, on an RSPCA Assured pig farm, farrowing crates are strictly prohibited. You can find out more about farrowing crates, but essentially they are barred metal crates where pregnant sows are placed shortly before giving birth. Farrowing crates prevent the sows from turning around and only allow them to move a little forwards and backwards, severely limiting their freedom.

While still legal in the UK, farrowing crates are never permitted on RSPCA Assured farms, meaning the sows are free to live with their piglets and raise them naturally for the first four weeks of life.

Find out more about the RSPCA welfare standards for pigs

The difference to chickens

Chickens need to be able to exhibit their natural behaviours and dustbathing is essential to chickens’ well-being. It isn’t just a way by which they keep themselves clean, it also helps them to relax. On RSPCA Assured farms, chickens must be provided with plenty of suitable material they can use for dustbathing.

Find out more about the RSPCA welfare standards for chickens

The difference to egg-laying hens

Whether free-range or barn-reared, hens have a strong instinct to perch. Raised perches in laying hen houses provide them with a place to rest and preen themselves. While not mandatory on all farms, the RSPCA’s standards exceed legislation and insist upon raised perches in laying hen houses.

Find out more about the RSPCA welfare standards for egg-laying hens

Making a difference to all animals

Laying hens, meat chickens, beef cattle, dairy cows, sheep, turkeys and pigs, in most situations, on RSPCA Assured farms, these animals must be given more space, allowing them to move around freely.

In addition to space to move freely, animals also need objects to engage with, something to keep them occupied during the day. The RSPCA’s standards insist that all animals be provided with environmental enrichment items which are appropriate to their species. These could be brushes for cows, straw bales for pigs, or objects for hens and chickens to peck at.

These are just a few of the areas where the RSPCA’s higher welfare standards improve the lives of farm animals. When you see our logo on meat, fish, eggs and dairy, you know that the animals were raised to our strict standards of welfare.

See the RSPCA's higher welfare standards for all animals

Understanding what high welfare standards really mean vs. food companies’ claims to promote higher welfare

While not traditionally associated with higher welfare standards, even fast food companies are finding they can no longer ignore public demand for more transparency and better treatment of animals.

So let’s take a look at some of their claims vs the reality of animal treatment.

Claims made about cattle welfare

One international chain of burger restaurants claims on their website that “We require our suppliers to ensure that their farmers comply with EU and UK animal welfare legislation, including statutory livestock codes of practice.”

Statutory livestock codes of practice are not the same as higher welfare standards and could involve distressing conditions for cattle, for example:

‘Statutory practices’ could involve keeping the cattle on fully slatted floors with no bedding for lying down. When cattle are housed in large numbers they are kept this way to keep them cleaner.

These living conditions would never be allowed on an RSPCA Assured farm, where the cattle must always be provided with a soft bedded lying area as well as a hard-standing area.

These practices could also allow the cattle to be fed a grain-heavy diet. This happens a lot, particularly in the final stages of their life and can lead to a condition called acidosis that causes discomfort and pain. On RSPCA Assured farms, cattle cannot be fed a diet which results in acidosis.

RSPCA standards also go above statutory welfare standards by insisting that calves be fed significantly more milk per day and also that they are weaned at an older age. This ensures the calves get the best start in life and that they do not experience chronic hunger.

Claims made about chicken welfare

Many fast-food chains serve chicken products but there is one which is particularly noted for it and on their website they make the claim, “we’re really proud to lead the way in our sector on improving chicken welfare. We use real, fresh chicken. It’s always cage-free.”

On the surface, this appears to be a very positive claim. Until we realise that all chickens raised for meat (known as broilers) are cage-free. Cage-free is only relevant when discussing egg-laying hens, where some are still kept in cages. You can find out more about the different systems for keeping egg-laying hens.

This company also makes the following statement, “Back in 2019, we signed the Better Chicken Commitment. It’s an ambitious set of chicken welfare goals, ranging from creating more barn space to introducing slower-growing breeds.”

The Better Chicken Commitment is a great project and we wholeheartedly support any company which is part of it. However, for the time being, chicken on sale at these restaurants still comes from faster-growing chickens which suffer from health and welfare problems. We hope as well as signing up to the commitment they actually introduce slower-growing breeds to their restaurants.

Claims made about pig welfare

One prominent producer of sausages in the UK says this (on their parent company website) regarding the welfare of pigs used in their products, “[we’re] committed to sourcing raw materials derived from animals from farms and suppliers that comply with all relevant local and regional legislation”

This means the pigs can be kept according to the baseline welfare standards of the country where they are reared. As stated earlier, this most probably involves the use of farrowing crates and slatted floors. This reduces the amount of straw the pigs can be given since it would fall through the gaps and therefore prevents the pigs from engaging in their natural and stimulating ‘rooting’ behaviours. 

RSPCA Assured pigs must be provided with plenty of space, comfortable bedding and materials to root in and manipulate, to ensure they are comfortable and able to carry out natural rooting behaviours. 

What does higher welfare really mean?

RSPCA Assured is the only assurance scheme dedicated to farm animal welfare and giving farmed animals a good life. It is your assurance that the animals were raised to higher welfare standards and cared for at every stage of their lives. 

For more information about exactly what the RSPCA’s welfare standards are for each species.

About the author

Jodie Adam

Jodie is RSPCA Assured's Digital Communications Manager. 

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