Farm Assurance Schemes
In latter years, it has become obvious to the farming industry that there is a degree of disillusionment, among the buying public, on food safety, animal welfare and ecology grounds. For this reason, various farm assurance schemes have been set up, in an attempt to reassure the public on various fronts.
Farm assurance schemes are voluntary schemes which producers can join, with the purpose of assuring customers that certain standards have been maintained in the production process.
The main British assurance schemes all have their own logos and assessment criteria. They are:
- the Soil Association organic standard
- the Red Tractor scheme
- the RSPCA Freedom Food scheme
- the LEAF Marque
These schemes incorporate a range of standards including aspects of safety, welfare and environment.
This quote from the website of CIWF sets the scene reasonably well:
“In the UK, CIWF examined various schemes against its own 15 animal welfare measures to see if they do anything other than meet the statutory minimum standards. We compared industry-led schemes, identified by the Little Red Tractor trademark, with the Soil Association’s Certified Organic Standard. We found that while the Certified Organic Standard did indeed represent good welfare standards, the industry-led schemes fell far short of their promises. The RSPCA’s Freedom Food Scheme has standards which are not as high as the Soil Association’s Organic Standard but are better than the industry’s norm or the Red Tractor Scheme. The Little Red Tractor symbol implies high welfare standards, but our research shows that in some cases even the government’s recommended minimum standards are not being met.”
Even ‘Freedom Food’ farms have been the subject of investigation and found wanting (Hillside Animal Sanctuary). Amazingly, the Freedom Food standards are ‘aspirational’, not actual, which leaves them wide open to abuse.
Of course, written standards must not only be clear, unequivocal and transparent, they must be implemented and adequately policed. As has been re-iterated in several places, throughout the AVMC website, the Soil Association appears to represent a very good overall welfare standard, in addition to the obvious reduction in agro-chemicals that are to be found in its foods and its ecological aspirations. Furthermore, monitoring and policing appear to be very rigorous. Other organic standards need to be reviewed, before we can advise the reader to support them. RSPCA Freedom Foods needs to be more open, transparent and verifiable, by the buying public, before it can be given a high score. For instance, any infringement of basic welfare seems to be explained away by the fact that these are ‘aspirational’ standards, not absolute requirements. This would seem to imply that there is no compulsion upon the producer to comply! As in so many walks of life, it is up to you, the consumer (buyer) to seek the evidence for yourself, in order to be well-informed and to make decisions compatible with your lifestyle and philosophical choices. Do not expect the relevant bodies, who obviously have a vested interest, to make the true picture clear to you. Be aware that marketing considerations can override ethics and truth.
N.B.: ‘Free Range’ is a tag for which most welfare-minded consumers look, on their egg purchases. However, sadly, it can mean anything from chickens running about in a field, as one would be justified in expecting, right through to a huge and crowded barn, with a tiny trap door open to the exterior. As long as chickens have access to open air, whether or not they use it, the eggs can legally be called ‘Free Range’. The only guarantee of decent welfare is to visit the farm, unless you opt for Soil Association standard eggs, which are from properly-kept hens and the standards are properly policed.