14 July 1995

Freedom animals set to grow & grow

MORE than 3m farm animals are involved in the Freedom Food welfare initiative, says the RSPCA>It claims that number is likely to grow dramatically with the introduction last week of Freedom Food chicken.

The RSPCA launched the Freedom Food scheme, which sets down standards for meat production from birth to slaughter, last July. Now, as well as Freedom Food chicken, pigmeat and eggs, dried dogfood is on sale.

Anouk Van der Ros, Freedom Foods trade marketing manager, said standards for beef and sheep were now finalised and she hoped that meat would be available by the end of the year.

For beef the standards include the provision of a fresh, wholesome diet that does not contain animal protein. Body condition must be regularly checked and maintained and a veterinary health plan must be established. The standards also specify husbandry procedures and shelter provision.

Ms Van der Ros said Tesco was committed to having its beef suppliers in Scotland and the West Country accredited to Freedom Food standards. That would involve more than 200 producers. She added that the company aimed to have the beef in their shops by the end of the year. Tesco declined to comment.

The sheep standards insist that scanning must be used to determine foetal numbers and that there must be close attention to the condition of sheeps feet. A veterinary health plan must be drawn up for both ewes and rams and good management and welfare of sheep dogs must be guaranteed. Sheep sold at stock markets will lose their Freedom Food status.

"We now have over 350 farmers and suppliers producing Freedom Food and there are more than 600 who are currently going through our accreditation process," said Ms Van der Ros.

Dairy standards

She added that standards for dairy cattle were also being finalised with the intention that Freedom Food milk and dairy products should be available on supermarket shelves. "We have already had discussions with various companies on the dairy standards and we are very encouraged with their reaction." She added that traceability was one of the main issues still being discussed.

RSPCA director general, Peter Davies said he was delighted with the first year of the scheme. "Public concern with farm animal welfare, and particularly with the issue of live transport, shows no sign of abating. If British shoppers continue to ask for Freedom Food, as they have done in the first year, more shops will stock it, more farmers will produce it and more animals will benefit," he said.

Shelley Wright