Competition between different animal welfare schemes is driving up standards for all the nation’s poultry and livestock, an investigation by the BBC’s Countryfile programme has concluded.

Aired on Sunday (14 July), the programme compared Freedom Food standards with Red Tractor and asked if birds and animals were “happier” under one scheme compared with another.

Jean-Paul Michalski, who manages production for leading packer Noble Foods, said Freedom Food was synonymous with high bird welfare. “Happy chicken is about being a good stockman. When I’m walking the birds I’m making sure that they are healthy and that I feel they are happy,” he told the programme.

Freedom Food assessor, Andrea Stanley, said the scheme was not just about the birds’ physical wellbeing, but about their mental well-being. Happier birds tended to lay more eggs and were less prone to disease.

And RSPCA farm animal scientist, Alice Clark, insisted that Freedom Food products were not just for the wealthy, but were accessible to all consumers.

The programme then looked at the Red Tractor assurance scheme, which covers broiler production, but not eggs.

Spokeswoman Emma Surman admitted that the standards applying to Red Tractor were generally not as high as Freedom Food, but the scheme covered many more farms throughout the UK livestock sector and therefore made a greater overall contribution to farm animal welfare.

Red Tractor standards were stricter than both statutory minimums and imports, she said, and gave consumers a higher welfare choice that was still affordable.

Finally, Countryfile interviewed Prof David Main from University of Bristol – an expert in animal welfare. He acknowledged that free-range and organic production methods offered good welfare opportunities for birds and animals. But ultimately it came down to good stockmanship and attention to detail, whatever the scheme in place.

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