New checks back Freedom Food

John Avizienius and Leigh Grant Deputy head of the RSPCA's Farm Animal Department and chief executive of Freedom Food Sir; As you reported, the RSPCA is trialling a new Welfare Outcomes system for assessing welfare on Freedom Food farms, which could be in place in parts of the scheme early next year ('Freedom Food ups ­welfare of animals', The Grocer, 30 June, p54). The article suggested that this was "in a bid to counter recent criticism". However, in fact the RSPCA commissioned this research with Bristol University more than seven years ago. The proposed new system will require the RSPCA's farm livestock officers to focus on welfare indicators relating to aspects of the animals' physical condition and behaviour. This could mean, for example, that the comb (crest) of a laying hen is examined as an indicator of the overall health of the bird. The article stated the comb is an indicator of how often the bird has been allowed outside, which is not necessarily true. It is hoped these indicators will help spot potential problems before they happen and improve the monitoring of the welfare of animals on Freedom Food farms. The new checks will be in addition to the inspections of current standards, which specify certain conditions such as the amount of space and light animals are given. They will not, as suggested, be used instead of the current standards. The information gathered will be used to inform development of the standards - but they will in no way affect or involve the current accreditation of Freedom Food members. If the trials prove successful, this scheme could help improve the welfare of millions of animals on the Freedom Food scheme.