A new RSPCA system to measure welfare standards could be implemented into the Freedom Food assurance scheme by early 2008.

The welfare outcomes assessment procedure is being trialled on layer, pig and dairy cattle units to measure the health and welfare of farm animals before it is incorporated into the Freedom Food scheme.

After years of commissioned research at the University of Bristol, RSPCA animal scientists combined research with their own on-farm experience to identify key signs or indicators of health and welfare.

Julia Wrathall, head of the RSPCA’s farm animal department, said this was significant, as it was the first time that welfare had been scientifically researched and a comprehensive, objective system of measurement developed.

The RSPCA plans to incorporate the welfare indicators into farm livestock officer (FLO) spot-checks.

Dr Wrathall said: “By looking at the prevalence and nature of the various indicators during a farm visit, we can gain an understanding of what needs to be changed in the animal’s environment or management to improve their welfare.”