RSPCA Assured (previously Freedom Foods)
In 2015, Freedom Food, the RSPCA’s farm animal welfare assurance and labelling scheme with five famous freedoms at its heart – freedom from hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury or disease; fear and distress; and the freedom to express normal behaviour – was rebranded for the consumer market as ‘RSPCA Assured’.
The label ‘Freedom Food’ in particular attracted much criticism as it implied all the animals under the scheme were ‘free’ or ‘free range’ which certainly was not true. The scheme approved and still approves indoor and intensively reared animals.
The RSPCA responded to criticism by saying the five freedoms were ‘ideals’ or ‘aspirations’, rather than a guarantee of how the animals were treated under their assurance scheme.
Today, the animals carrying the RSPCA Assured label are not necessarily free-range. In fact, much of the pig meat approved by the RSPCA comes from animals housed in indoor intensive systems. Whilst the RSPCA scheme has improved its welfare requirements – in particular, it no longer allows the use of the farrowing crate – important behaviours such as rooting are denied in indoor units (and nose rings are permitted to stop it outdoors); the same dry or liquid feeds are given; babies are taken away before they’re naturally weaned, mutilations are permitted (eg tail docking in indoor units, teeth clipping) and what some find most disappointing is that the space requirements per growing pig are so small – almost the same as government guidelines, a far cry from ‘free’, ‘high welfare’, ‘ability to express normal behaviour’, ‘freedom from distress or discomfort’ and so forth.
This, not surprisingly, comes as a shock to those consumers who want to trust the RSPCA to only approve non-intensive outdoor production.
Some examples of what is allowed on RSPCA Assured farms are below:
RSPCA: ‘No piglets can be weaned from the sow before 28 days of age’. However, the RSPCA then go on to say that 21 days is accepted (see below):
The Assured scheme approves farms which wean at just three to four weeks of age. Three weeks so long as ‘the weaned piglets are moved into specialised housing that is emptied, cleaned… and separated from the sows…’ This is the same low welfare standards that Defra give and slightly less strict than the industry scheme, Red Tractor, which stipulates 28 days. Naturally, pigs would be weaned at about 12 weeks of age (but would not leave their mothers until much older, if at all – see About Pigs/Social Beings section), and parting them from their mothers this early makes them extremely vulnerable to disease; leads to the overuse of antibiotics and other medicines; and causes trauma to both mother and piglets. Presumably the RSPCA chose three to four weeks because most intensive production systems wean piglets at three to four weeks of age (so they can make the sow pregnant again as soon as possible).
The RSPCA even admit that ‘the earlier the weaning age .. the greater the chance of them suffering from welfare problems’ in their Welfare Standards, yet rather than stipulating that farmers must wean later, they state ‘therefore a more careful system is required with respect to management’.
Space for growing pigs
RSPCA: ‘The minimum space allowances for growing pigs are as follows:
Live weight (kg) Lying area (m2) Total area (m2)
10 0.10 0.15
100 0.50 0.75
These standard sizes have changed very little since at least the year 2000. They are very close to the minimum permitted space allowances outlined in Defra’s Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock 2003 (62). This is a disgrace by the RSPCA.
In our view, this means that the RSPCA approves of overcrowded (yet not illegal) conditions. In essence, pigs have enough space to lie down and a fraction more for their life.
Mature dry sows’ minimum requirement for space is 3.5m2. Pregnant animals spend their lives with space and little to keep them occupied.
In December 2015, new RSPCA Welfare Standards in relation to farrowing (and indoor free farrowing in particular) were introduced. The use of farrowing crates is now prohibited by the RSPCA. How incredible that until recently they approved of crates. Currently, guidelines are sparse on indoor farrowing, the guidelines state that the sow must be able to turn around and be provided with straw for bedding and a nesting material.
RSPCA: ‘Tail docking is not permitted except in exceptional circumstances’ .
Again the RSPCA compromises welfare principles in order to support a common intensive farming practice. The RSPCA, instead of allowing cruel procedures that are against their principles, should set much higher welfare standards which would eliminate tail biting and therefore the ‘need’ to tail dock. Defra also state that tail docking should not be routine but this is routinely ignored!
The RSPCA also allows teeth clipping, though it says it must not be routine (also stated by Defra, but farmers ignore this advice).
The RSPCA does not allow surgical castration but will approve chemical castration, where Improvac is given to shrink the testes providing justification is given. Ironically, the industry scheme, Red Tractor does not approve any castration.
The RSPCA approves units where pigs spend their life in almost barren pens, never able to see or feel sunlight; to be able to run and play; to explore the natural world; pigs may or may not be mutilated; piglets are taken at the routine industry standard of 21 to 28 days; and to be transported up to eight hours to their death.