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Farm assurance standards challenged

Welfare standards within the industry Red Tractor scheme came under fire in a report from Compassion in World Farming, who claimed that it did little more than ensure compliance with mininimum legal requirements.

Welfare standards within UK farm assurance schemes came under scrutiny recently following the recent publication of a benchmarking study by the animal rights advocates, Compassion in World Farming -
'Farm Assurance Schemes and Animal Welfare'.

The CIWF report compared the industry schemes operated by Assured Food Standards under the 'Red Tractor' umbrella with a range of other more specialised schemes such as 'Freedom Food' and the 'Soil Association' organic certification.

Their analysis covered the majority of farm animal species including pigs, dairy and beef cattle, broilers and laying hens. It was based on a scoring system across a wide range of criteria. Schemes reaching defined points totals were awarded Gold (+90%), Silver (+70%) and Bronze (+50%).

In the pig sector, the ‘Soil Association’ received Silver and ‘Freedom Food’ received Bronze classification. Needless to say, the ‘Red Tractor’ scheme (Assured British Pigs) was ‘unclassified’. In the view of the report, the ‘Red Tractor’ schemes represented little more than compliance with minimum legal standards and there was criticism of the permitted use of farrowing pens, minimum provision of environmental enrichment and mutilations such as tail docking and teeth clipping of piglets.

The AFS Response said that the report was based on inaccurate information and ignored the improvement in real welfare standards achieved by uptake of independently monitored farm assurance schemes over the last few years. They also pointed out that the ‘ideal’ welfare standards of the CIWF report were predicated on outdoor or extensive production systems, which largely ignored the welfare and environmental benefits achieved in well managed indoor systems.

The NPA have said they are exploring the possibility of setting up a ‘Whistleblower Hotline’ – to head off further exposés of welfare abuse by animal rights organisations such as the recent cases brought to light by Animal Equality , according to a recent report in Farmers Weekly.