We’ve all seen the logos on food packaging on supermarket shelves, Organic milk, Red Tractor minced beef, RSPCA Assured sausages, Lion Code free-range eggs, and Fairtrade coffee. But what do these logos really mean and what difference do they make to the food you often unquestioningly place into your shopping trolley week after week?
What does food assurance mean?
Assurance labels are a promise that the food you are buying has been produced in accordance with certain standards and ethics. What appears as simply an eye-catching logo on your sausages, milk, coffee or chocolate is actually the end result of a carefully monitored process to ensure the food you buy is sourced, raised, treated, or harvested, in a particular way with an emphasis on ethics, sustainability or animal welfare.
Why is farm assurance important?
To anyone concerned about animal welfare, the environment, or just the food they are putting on their plate every day, farm assurance represents the promise of better standards. It is an assurance that the food you are buying has been raised, grown, treated, handled, transported or even slaughtered according to certain standards.
What do assurance schemes focus on?
There are a number of farm assurances in the UK and even more around the world and they each have their own specific focus. These are the major ones you’ll find on food in the UK, together with their principal focus.
How does farm assurance work?
All farm assurance schemes work differently based on their priorities, but the process is more or less the same for all of them. When a farm wishes to join a scheme, it makes an application (farm assurance schemes are voluntary). The farm is then visited and assessed to ensure it meets the specifications and standards required.
Once accepted onto the scheme, regular visits are made to these farms to ensure the standards are continually being met. Once again, the regularity of these visits depends on the scheme. In addition to identifying areas for improvement, farm assurance schemes also provide guidance to encourage continuous improvement and adoption of the latest techniques and technologies.
Assurance from farm to fork
It is not sufficient to ensure that the animals or crops were raised to a particular set of standards. It is also necessary to ensure the public that the food they find on the shelves carrying the logo has been treated and handled with respect during the entire process. This is known as a chain of custody, and it forms part of the guarantee made to customers when they choose farm-assured products.
What does RSPCA Assured do?
As the RSPCA’s farm assurance and food labelling scheme, we assess farms, hauliers and abattoirs to ensure they meet the RSPCA’s welfare standards. We work to ensure that the animals on RSPCA Assured farms live their lives from birth to death according to strict higher welfare standards.
Our assessors visit the farms on our scheme once a year to ensure the higher welfare standards set by the RSPCA are being maintained. In addition to checking for standards, our assessors also carry out welfare outcome assessments. By monitoring welfare outcomes such as animal mortality rates, disease, lameness, injuries and the occurrence of normal and abnormal behaviours, farm assessors can see to what extent the potential for higher welfare is really being achieved. This is because farm animal welfare isn’t measured by the number of hens per water feeder or square metres per animal, it is seen in the all-round well-being of the individual animal.
Does RSPCA Assured mean free-range?
Not necessarily; let’s take eggs as an example. When you see the RSPCA Assured logo on a box of eggs, it means that the hens were raised and cared for according to the RSPCA’s welfare standards; those standards cover both free-range hens and barn-kept hens. At the time of writing, only 2.5% of our egg producers still use a barn-raising system. Both indoor and outdoor farming systems for egg laying hens have positive and negative welfare issues, and the RSPCA standards seek to manage these accordingly. You can find out more on our egg-laying hens page.
How does farm assurance benefit consumers?
Farm assurance labelled food costs more
Initially, this may not seem like a positive but every time you go shopping you have a choice, an opportunity to show your support and by opting to pay a little bit more, you can send the signal that the environment or animal welfare is important to you.
By paying a little more for your meat, fish, eggs, or milk, you are supporting farmers who genuinely care about their animals. A few extra pence for a bottle of milk means the farm is able to invest in new machinery or make improvements to improve the lives of the animals.
Promotion of welfare standards
Farm assurance schemes aren’t just an assurance for the customer, they also heighten awareness around welfare issues. For example, by being able to support free-range eggs, the public was able to drive the supply chain which led to most supermarkets stocking almost exclusively free-range eggs.
What difference does RSPCA Assured make?
To find out more about the difference RSPCA Assured makes to farm animals, you visit our specific welfare pages.
We all live busy lives these days and trying to decipher all the information we now find on different packets of food can be mind-boggling and in the case of certain terms like ‘natural’ and ‘farm fresh’ sometimes misleading.
The great thing about farm assurance labels is that they can provide quick and easy reassurance on the issues that most matter to you without having to trawl through the small print on the back of the pack.