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Animal welfare

20 July 2005
Animal welfare

The provenance of ingredients served in restaurants is of greater concern now to customers than ever before. Not only do they want to be assured that the food they eat tastes good and is safe and beneficial for their health, when it comes to meat and eggs they are also concerned about sound animal welfare.

In research by MORI commissioned by the RSPCA in April 2005, 76% of consumers said that they would avoid going to a restaurant with poor animal welfare policies, whilst 21% are unhappy about the lack of information in restaurants about the best animal welfare products. Of particular concern is the welfare of poultry used in the fast food industry.

Chefs need to source their ingredients carefully to be able to assure customers that the meat and eggs they serve only come from farmers and producers who work to the highest animal welfare standards. The best means of guaranteeing good provenance is by buying meat and eggs that have the RSPCA Freedom Food labelling or are certified as either organic by the Soil Association or biodynamic by Demeter.

RSPCA Freedom Food
Freedom Food was set up in 1994 by the RSPCA to give customers assurance that the food they were buying came from farm animals that had been reared in a healthy and happy environment.

For products to receive a Freedom Food trademark, the farm where the meat is reared needs to be audited, together with the hauliers which transport the animals and the abattoirs which slaughter them. Once in the scheme, farms and other members are subject to reassessments and spot checks.

The standards are based on the concept of five freedoms:

• Freedom from fear and distress. Farmers are required to avoid mixing animals of different ages, sexes and social groups, which can be very stressful to the animals and may result in injury through fighting.
• Freedom from hunger and thirst. A satisfying and appropriate diet, together with constant access to fresh water is essential.
• Freedom from discomfort. Farmers need to provide plenty of space to move around, as well as shelter and a comfortable resting area.
• Freedom from pain, injury and disease. Animals should be kept in a well- maintained environment to assure good health. Good veterinary care should be used when required.
• Freedom to express normal behaviour by providing plenty of space, an appropriate environment and the company of the animals' own kind.

The RSPCA has recently launched the Alternative Awards to recognise restaurants and fast food outlets for achievements and improvements in their annual welfare practices.

Businesses that enter the awards will be asked their policies on providing information about animal welfare standards on menus; the welfare of poultry, laying hens, pigs, cattle, sheep, farmed fish and lobster; the importation of meat and eggs from countries with lower animal welfare standards that the UK; and the serving of foie gras.

For further details about the RSPCA Alternative Awards visit www.rspcaalternativeawards.org.uk

The Soil Association- Organic Mark The Soil Association mark provides a mark of organic integrity. A farm will only receive the certification if it is farming to high organic standards which require stringent levels of animal welfare. Such welfare is ensured through the monitoring of housing, stock densities, veterinary treatments and feed of all registered farms. Organic standards also minimise the negative effects of transporting animals. Checks are made every year to ensure standards are adhered to.

Organic eggs

Organic chickens - organic chickens are allowed to exercise their full range of natural behaviour such as grazing, pecking the ground, scratching and dust-bathing. Slow- growing breeds are encouraged, as opposed to intensively reared chickens which gain weight quickly causing heart and lung strain. Growth-promoting drugs and preventative antibiotics are prohibited.

Organic pigs - organic pigs are allowed to root and forage outside, whilst over 70% of intensively reared pigs are reared indoors. Intensively reared sows are often confined to a small farrowing crate to give birth and for the three weeks or so whilst suckling their piglets - a practice prohibited by the Soil Association.

Organic beef - organic beef cattle are allowed to graze on pasture for most of their lives, as opposed to intensive farming which may involve keeping bull calves indoors or in yards. At least 60% of organic cattle are fed on grass, hay or silage, whilst intensively farmed cattle are fed on high levels of concentrated feeds and silage, then fattened up as quickly as possible.

Organic sheep - the big difference between organic and non-organic sheep are the methods used to control and prevent diseases. Non-organic sheep are likely to receive more veterinary treatments than organic sheep, with non-organic lambs being wormed every four to six weeks regardless of need and newborn lambs being given antibiotics as a preventative treatment.

Demeter- Certification of Biodynamics Biodynamics was devised 80 years ago by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. It involves a holistic and spiritual approach to farming, which is self-sufficient in compost, manures and animal feeds, with all external inputs kept to a minimum.

Demeter is the brand for all products which have been farmed biodynamically and in the UK is co-ordinated by the Biodynamic Association.

When it comes to animal welfare, biodynamic farming follows the principle that animals that are born and reared on a farm which cares for their feed and husbandry needs in a loving way, have good health and fertility with a high lifetime production. As well as following the high standards of animal welfare in organic farming as laid down by the Soil Association, Demeter operates additional guidelines, including:

•The prohibition of the dehorning of cattle.
•The keeping of male sires on a farm is recommended, whilst artificial insemination is not recommended.
•Farms should operate a closed system whereby the animals should remain on the farm on which they are born until slaughter in order to reduce stress levels.

Contacts
For details of suppliers of meat and eggs that follow the principles of good animal welfare, visit the following websites:

RSPCA: www.rspca.org.uk
Soil Association: www.soilassociation.org
Biodynamic Agricultural Association: www.biodynamic.org.uk

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