A Scottish alternative to the RSPCA's Freedom Food scheme has been launched, offering pig producers the chance to gain a similar welfare marque - free of charge.

Under the scheme, producers will get free independent animal welfare inspections by the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If producers pass the inspection they will be allowed to use the on-pack endorsement 'Approved by Scottish SPCA, Scotland's Animal Welfare Charity'.

By contrast the RSPCA's Freedom Food scheme charges producers an inspection and certification cost of £126.50 or £186.30 for pig breeders or breeder rearers respectively. It also charges a licence fee to use its logo on products.

The programme is open to Scottish pig producers who are currently part of Scotland's national pork assurance scheme, Specially Selected Pork, and aims to meet consumer calls for enhanced animal welfare guarantees. 

Participation will be voluntary and producers who decide to take part will not face any additional charges either for inspections or for use of the logo on packs of pork sold at retail.

The new scheme will also be broader than Freedom Food as it will be available to both indoor and outdoor producers, says the SSPCA. There are currently approximately 200 pig farms in total in Scotland, 70% of which produce pigs indoors. 

The initiative is the result of a tie-up between Quality Meat Scotland and the SSPCA, which already undertook joint inspections across Scotland, said SSPCA chief executive Stuart Earley. "There is a demand for a Scottish animal welfare scheme to assure Scottish meat." 

Asda has become the first supermarket to publicly back the initiative. "We are delighted to support this new scheme, which will give customers in our Scottish stores the highest level of assurance on the welfare of pigs, something we know they are concerned about," said Asda's head of ethical and sustainable sourcing, Chris Brown.