Freedom Food is the RSPCA’s farm assurance and food labelling scheme, the only farm assurance scheme to be recognised at both UK and EU levels as a mark of higher animal welfare. We were launched in 1994, the idea of the RSPCA’s Deputy Chief Vet, Alistair Mews and his small team in the RSPCA’s Farm Animals Department to address the welfare problems they were seeing on farms, during transport and at slaughter.
They realised that to make a real difference to the welfare of farm animals they had to demonstrate solutions not just point out the problems. So with welfare scientists, vets, the latest research and input from the farming community, the first RSPCA welfare standards were developed.
The rest, as they say, is history. Today we have over 3,000 members across farming and food production; there are RSPCA welfare standards for nine different commonly farmed animal; and you can find Freedom Food labelled meat, fish and poultry products in the majority of the UK’s supermarkets.
Freedom Food is a registered charity, a limited company and is independently audited and accredited by UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Services).
Freedom Food is the only scheme where members have to adhere to all of the relevant RSPCA welfare standards. Our assessment is animal focussed not just a paper-based exercise (afterall, the animals are our concern). Our members are assessed every year. And, because Freedom Food members are expected to apply the welfare standards all the time, day in, day out, every Freedom Food member is subject to unannounced monitoring visits from the RSPCA’s Farm Livestock Officers.
Our day-to-day role is to assess farms against the RSPCA’s strict welfare standards. We also assess hatcheries, transporters, animal handlers, abattoirs and processors because Freedom Food covers the whole of a farm animal’s life from birth to slaughter.
We want to change the way of life for as many farm animals as possible, not just those reared for the very premium market. To that end, the RSPCA welfare standards are set at the stretching end of achievable and are regularly reviewed.
We know that the majority of people – more than 70% - are concerned about farm animal welfare* but knowing what to do can be hard, so we work with retailers, (supermarkets, convenience stores, farm shops) to increase visibility of Freedom Food at point of sale . We also work with food brands, chefs, restaurant owners and food service companies to encourage them to buy from Freedom Food approved farms or to help them bring their suppliers up to Freedom Food approved status so it is easy for us as shoppers to choose the higher welfare option.
Our other role is to demonstrate to the farming industry that higher welfare farming methods can be achievable – and successful – for all sorts of different farms, not just small, artisan operations producing only premium-priced foods. Our aim is that practices developed under the Freedom Food scheme become adopted as general best practice in time. That’s already been seen with the introduction of veterinary health plans, something the industry had previously said was impossible to do.
It is also worth noting that Freedom Food is completely independent of the food and farming industries. Membership of the scheme is voluntary and achieved only when all of the relevant RSPCA standards are met and membership can be suspended or taken away completely if any member breaches the standards.
Freedom Food labelled products are fully traceable from the shop shelf to the farm. Not only are details checked when a product is labelled, we also employ independent auditors to randomly select and check the supply chains of producers so you can have confidence that a product carrying the logo has come from animals reared at each stage of their life to RSPCA welfare standards. You can read about how we are run and financed here.
*IGD research 2011
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