29 September 2000

Animal comfort will come under review

DAIRY cows and pigs are to be part of an independent review of the RSPCAs Freedom Food scheme.

The review, funded by Tesco, aims to find out whether the scheme has improved welfare. Pigs and dairy cows are first to come under scrutiny, followed by the welfare of laying hens in the Freedom Food scheme, according to Bristol Universitys John Webster.

Speaking at the presentation of this years Alastair Mews awards in London last week, Prof Webster said Freedom Foods welfare quality control scheme was a classic way of increasing public trust in farming.

"But we need to know whether the scheme guarantees high welfare, and look at how we can continually improve assessment and monitoring to improve animal welfare."

The review has already drawn on the experience of experts world-wide to find a general consensus on what really matters in assessing welfare, before a series of suggested welfare measures was drawn up to use in assessing the scheme. "We have already tested the systems robustness on dairy and laying hen units," said Prof Webster.

He said the independent audit would increase trust in the scheme if it could be proved that Freedom Food meets its aims. "It may also lead to a new approach to RSPCA monitoring of assessments based on welfare, a refinement of Freedom Food assessments and work towards continually improving welfare." &#42