RSPCA attacks UK welfare schemes

The RSPCA’s has criticised most of the UK’s welfare improvement schemes on poultry claiming they don’t go far enough to ensure animals have a life worth living.

The attack comes as the RSPCA made a new pledge to increase the number of farm animals reared in higher welfare systems.

Senior poultry welfare scientist Mark Cooper condemned several leading poultry welfare schemes, including the Red Tractor, Lion scheme, Quality British Turkey (QBT) and the Duck Assurance scheme (DAS), saying none of them went into enough detail to comprehensively cover all welfare aspects.

“Other schemes fall short on the chicken side. They don’t go far enough to ensure animals have a good quality of life,” Mr Cooper said.

He said the RSPCA’s Freedom Foods assurance scheme was far superior, covering a total of 620 standards.

“I’m not aware of any other scheme which does that. We are the only scheme that has standards specifically focusing on animal welfare so we have the most comprehensive and detailed welfare standards.”

Specifically, Mr Cooper criticised the Lion scheme for permitting hens to be kept in cages and QBT, which he said still stocked turkeys at too higher density.

He also claimed Red Tractor didn’t go far enough to tackle issues such as space allowance, lighting and enrichment.

“The DAS doesn’t provide a suitable open water source,” he noted. Although he recognised water sources had to be provided under the scheme, Mr Cooper said they didn’t allow the birds to express their natural behaviour.

His views were supported by Dr Julia Wrathall, head of the RSPCA’s farm animal’s science team, who said legal farm practices also fell short of welfare requirements.

In particular she referred to broilers being selected for fast growth rate, which she said could result in lameness, leg deformities and heart failure.

Mr Cooper admitted there were too many welfare assurance schemes and said it was adding to consumer confusion.

Red Tractor hit-back at the comments, saying the scheme provided good standards of welfare at an affordable price.

“It is disappointing that anyone should seek to undermine the entire scheme because of differences over a very small proportion of the criteria,” said David Clarke, chief executive of the Red Tractor assurance scheme.

“Red Tractor poultry standards include standards for both free range and indoor production. For indoor production the regulatory maximum stocking densities in GB are lower than permitted in the EU legislation, and the maximum level in the Red Tractor standard is lower still,” he added.

Red Tractor said a report, recently commissioned by DEFRA, provided good evidence that standards of compliance with regulatory requirements for health and welfare is significantly better on farms in certification schemes.

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