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The big issues facing Britain’s farm animals

Who are RSPCA Assured?

RSPCA Assured is the RSPCA's farmed animal welfare assurance scheme and ethical food label.

Every year, our dedicated team of assessors inspect almost 4,000 hatcheries, farms, hauliers and abattoirs to make sure they meet strict RSPCA welfare standards - ensuring a better life for farmed animals from birth/hatching to slaughter.

The RSPCA Assured label on products makes it easy to spot products from animals that had a better life so you can feel confident about your choice.

Our Purpose

To offer you a higher welfare choice by ensuring animals are farmed to RSPCA welfare standards.

Our Vision

All farm animals have a good life and are treated with compassion and respect.

Our values

  • Education - Helping people of all ages become informed and compassionate consumers
  • Partnership - Working cooperatively with others for the benefit
    of farm animal welfare
  • Integrity - Acting with professionalism, accountability, honesty
    and transparency
  • Compassion - Showing kindness and respect towards animals,
    people and our planet
Animal welfare in the UK

Some key concerns

Over one billion animals are farmed in the UK every year. The majority of these animals are kept in conditions that the RSPCA believes need to be improved.

The solution

All RSPCA Assured members must adhere to the RSPCA’s higher animal welfare standards. Inspections are carried out regularly to ensure the standards are being maintained and that animal welfare is always a priority.

Slaughter

Some key concerns
Around one in ten farmed animals in the UK are not stunned before they are slaughtered though there are big differences between species, with around 25 per cent of sheep, 10 per cent of meat chickens but only two per cent or less of cattle, hens and turkeys being killed without pre-stunning. Potentially as many as 20 - 30 per cent of poultry are shackled upside down by their legs whilst conscious before being killed. This can cause animals a great deal of pain, stress and suffering.

The solution
The RSPCA standards require that all animals be pre-stunned to ensure that they are unconscious prior to slaughter. The RSPCA's welfare standards also prohibit the routine use of water-bath stunning for poultry, which involves inverted shackling.

Mutilations

Some key concerns

Many farmed animals are subjected to mutilations. Piglets often have their teeth clipped and/or their tails docked and over 90% of hens will have their beaks trimmed. These practices are employed to try to avoid other animal welfare problems, such as tail-biting in pigs and feather pecking in hens.

The solution

The RSPCA is committed to finding solutions to these problems and making mutilations unnecessary e.g. through improving the animals’ environments. In the meantime, the RSPCA standards insist that procedures such as tail docking piglets are only undertaken as a last resort and under specific circumstances when other approaches have been tried to overcome problems such as tail biting.

Crowded conditions

Some key concerns
Almost 40 per cent of the UK’s egg-laying hens are still kept in cages and around 60 per cent of pregnant pigs give birth in closely confining crates. Even farmed animals not kept in cages or crates are often kept in overcrowded conditions. This lack of space limits their ability to stay active, healthy and carry out natural behaviours and increases the risk of social conflict between animals.

The solution
The RSPCA’s standards clearly specify the minimum amount of space each animal must be given, which is typically above minimum legal requirements. The ‘quality’ of the space, such as the type of flooring and provision of an interesting environment, is also specified. This allows them to move around freely and carry out their natural behaviours, such as foraging, exploring and washing/preening.

Breed

Some key concerns

Many farmed animals have been bred to be highly productive often at the cost of their health and welfare. This breeding for ever greater levels of production has contributed to some breeds of beef cattle being unable to give birth naturally and skeletal and organ problems in the vast majority of chickens bred for meat. It may also have impacted some animals’ behaviour.

The solution
The RSPCA has been involved in efforts to encourage breeding for better welfare traits, as well as only allowing the use of higher welfare, slower-growing breeds of chicken within its own standards. In its welfare standards for Beef Cattle, the RSPCA prohibits the use of breeding approaches that result in routine caesarian sections because the cattle cannot give birth naturally.

Enrichment

Some key concerns
Many farm animals are not provided with bedding; pigs can legally be kept on hard slatted floors. Many more animals are not provided with sufficient enrichment to ensure a healthy level of physical and mental activity. Enrichment includes materials like straw and objects that encourage natural active and inquisitive behaviours like foraging, exploring and, for poultry, dustbathing.

The solution
The RSPCA standards insist that animals are provided with enough suitable bedding and enrichment to ensure comfort and stimulation. For example, pigs must be provided with material such as straw to enable them to express their natural behaviour of rooting, whilst hens and chickens must be given objects to peck at and perch on.

Transport and handling

Some key concerns
Farmed animals are often transported long distances without access to food and water. This can be a stressful experience and can cause injury or heat exhaustion. Before transportation, the animals are loaded onto the vehicles. If this handling process is rushed and/or performed incorrectly, it can cause bruising and or even broken bones.

The solution
The RSPCA’s standards cover the whole of an animal’s life from birth to slaughter, including the specific requirements aimed at safeguarding welfare during handling and transport of animals, including limiting journey duration to below legally permitted maximum times.

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