Food label scheme the Red Tractor has been accused of having the lowest standards of any quality mark on British food.
A report into UK assurance schemes said country’s most widely-used scheme did little more than meet legal requirements when it came to animal welfare.
It said Assured Food Standards’ Red Tractor accreditation allowed poor welfare practices such as year-round housing of cattle, tail docking of piglets and chickens being stocked in sheds at very high densities
Carried out by charities Compassion in World Farming and OneKind, the Farm Assurance Scheme and Animal Welfare report looked at Red Tractor, British Lion Mark, RSPCA Freedom Food and Soil Association schemes.
Quality Meat Scotland and the Scottish Organic Producers Association were also included in the 60-page document, which ranked the schemes in order of the welfare standards they offered livestock.
Of all of the schemes, the report said Assured Food Standards was the poorest scorers because it allowed tethering of sheep and cattle, zero grazing and genetically-modified or cloned animals and their offspring.
It also generally provided less space and comfort than rival marks, it added.
The Soil Association had the highest standards for all of the livestock categories, with its laying hens and pigs achieving ‘gold’ welfare status and ‘silver’ status for turkeys, broiler chickens, sheep and beef and dairy cattle.
The RSPCA’s Freedom Food came in second place, while the Scottish Organic Producers Association also offered ‘signifiant welfare benefits’.
Compassion in World Farming said it recognised Assured Food Standards – which was introduced in 2000 and is carried £12bn worth of food each year – offered significant welfare benefits over minimum legal requirements in other countries.
But it said the Red Tractor label, along with QMS and Lion Code had significant room for improvement and needed to incorporate assessment of welfare outcomes into their standards.
Philip Lymbery, CIWF chief executive, said the report showed shoppers should buy meat, milk and eggs accredited by the RSPCA or organic schemes to ensure they bought food produced to high welfare standards.
But Assured Food Standards criticised the report for being biased and inaccurate.
It said the report ignored that some meat was not approved by any scheme and that Red Tractor also guaranteed food safety, environmental protection and traceability.
“We believe this is a very poor report,” chief executive David Clarke said. “It is biased and several statements are just plain wrong.
“Crucially, they have no regard for the cost of production and what consumers can afford.”
Read the report