Time to act: More animals intensively farmed than ever before

Time to act: More animals intensively farmed than ever before


A blog by Emma Slawinski, our Director of Advocacy and Policy.

For the past few years, there has been a notable shift in animal welfare. The ending of one era and the beginning of another. For farm animals, for example, the public are becoming ever more curious about the origins of their food and the welfare of the animals involved.

"Growing numbers are reducing their meat intake"

Conscious consumers are increasingly applying an ethical lens to what they put in their shopping baskets and in their mouths. Growing numbers are reducing their meat intake due to concerns around animal welfare, the environment and their health.

Shelves are bursting with meat substitutes and alternative proteins, and reports are heralding lab-grown meat as a potential 'industry ending' disruptive technology.

There will be an era-defining legislative change too. Live exports are (finally!) being banned after decades of campaigning. Subsidies are on track to be directed towards higher welfare farming and plans are gaining momentum for better food labelling of animal products so shoppers can make more informed choices.

"More animals are being farmed in intensive conditions than ever before"

This cultural and legislative shift gives those of us who care about the welfare of farm animals a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a huge difference to over one billion animals raised for food in the UK each year.

This shift is urgent because, despite this good news, the overall trends are working against us. The growth in the global farm animal population, mirroring the growth in human population, means that despite this progress, more animals are being farmed in intensive conditions than ever before.

Here at the RSPCA, we want to see an end to intensive farming, referred to by some as factory farming.

"RSPCA Assured uses the world's most comprehensive welfare standards"

We set up RSPCA Assured, a welfare-focused food assurance scheme, almost 30 years ago to change farming in Britain. The majority of farm animals in the UK are raised in intensive conditions. RSPCA Assured uses the RSPCA's farm animal welfare standards - the most comprehensive welfare focussed standards in the world - to incrementally reduce the proportion of animals in intensive farms, and increase the proportion farmed to higher welfare standards.

"RSPCA Assured improves the lives of 136 million animals every year"

Last year, we unveiled a bold aim to see half of all farm animals reared to RSPCA welfare standards by 2030 and that work started with an independent review of RSPCA Assured to see how this aim can best be achieved. The review confirmed the scheme has a 'positive and significant impact on improving the lives of 136 million animals in the UK per year, with the potential to assure more.'

The review also noted that with 'consumption levels remaining high and consumers caring about animal welfare and food origin, the need for assurance (schemes) will not dissipate in the next 10 years.'

The review made it clear that the need for our scheme is as great as ever - but that there was also the opportunity to make significant changes to our approach and extend the scheme to improve the lives of more animals than ever before.

We're taking on the recommendations of the review in full; making a transformative change to the RSPCA Assured scheme. This will focus on increasing consumer demand as the key driver for change. We'll also:

  1. Maximise our inspection regime (both by increasing physical checks on farm and also looking to new technologies)
  2. Review the process by which we set our standards
  3. Look at new ways to educate and inform the public about farm animal welfare
  4. Review the pricing model for higher welfare products and work with new partners and new sectors - for example, the food service industry to see more RSPCA Assured products being used in restaurants, pubs and catering companies.

Alongside this, we are working with farmers, retailers and other key stakeholders to increase the welfare benefits of our farm animal standards. This work has begun with an ongoing review of the salmon standards, and we will be engaging with the Scottish salmon industry to achieve the highest possible levels of welfare for salmon raised under the RSPCA Assured scheme.

As well as immediately impacting the lives of animals the transformation of RSPCA Assured paves the way to raising baseline legislative standards. Our approach has a ripple effect on the standards of other assurance schemes, retailers' own standards, and impact internationally by providing a reference point for NGOs, scientists and governments overseas.

By continuously improving RSPCA standards and keeping, and increasing, the level of market share of RSPCA Assured, we drive a virtuous circle of voluntary and then mandatory improvements in welfare. In this way, we hope to incrementally improve the treatment of billions of animals currently being farmed.

"Reducing the number of animals farmed is an essential part of the roadmap to ending intensive farming"

Whilst RSPCA Assured is an essential part of our work on improving the lives of farm animals - and the scheme and our standards are the 'jewels in the crown' of our strategy for farmed animals - we also have a broader approach to working to end intensive farming. 

Our team works directly on securing improved regulation and legislation (ending the use of hen cages and farrowing crates for pigs, for example) through providing scientific evidence, lobbying and public campaigning. We also work with businesses to secure their support for the Better Chicken Commitment - bringing more space and better breeding to many millions of chickens.

The RSPCA has a duty and responsibility to drive welfare improvements in farming. As we enter this new era, we will more actively support moves to reduce the number of animals farmed overall. Reducing the number of animals farmed is an essential part of the roadmap to ending intensive farming. 

"We will act at every opportunity to influence policy towards more nature-based, regenerative and sustainable agriculture"

We will also act at every opportunity to influence policy away from intensive farming, towards more nature-based, regenerative and sustainable agriculture. Our priority will always be animal welfare but we believe this approach will also bring benefits for the environment and for human health.

Over time, the increasing proportion of animals being farmed to higher welfare standards, and the reducing number of farmed animals overall will see a reduction, and eventually an end, to intensive farming.

"2022 is a pivotal year for farm animal welfare"

2022 is a pivotal year for farm animal welfare as the post-Brexit period sees the UK making international free trade agreements that have the potential to safeguard or undermine farm animal welfare. This could see the biggest change in agriculture for 45 years and we want to ensure we are doing our absolute best for farm animals.

In the weeks and months ahead we will:

  1. Drive a programme of transformation through the RSPCA Assured scheme.
  2. Continue to drive change through the ongoing publication of revised and updated farm animal standards for the major species.
  3. Continue to push hard for a ban on non-stun slaughter.
  4. Raise awareness that antibiotic resistance is a 'ticking time bomb' in intensively farmed animals and one of the biggest threats to human and animal health.
  5. Urge retailers to sign-up to the Better Chicken Commitment to ensure higher welfare chicken can be found on our supermarket shelves.
  6. Push for government action on better labelling of animal products, subsidies to support higher welfare farming, and ensuring the ban on the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter is implemented in full.
  7. Call for government policies and public behaviour change towards 'less and better' consumption and production of animal products.

Read more: We can't combat the medical timebomb of antibiotic resistance if we don't first change how we farm.

We're committed to seeing an increase in higher welfare farming and an end to intensive farming. As we embark on this pivotal year, I really look forward to continuing to work in partnership, to achieve a vision that is shared by many across the food and farming sector.

Take action

If you eat meat or dairy, buy RSPCA Assured to ensure animals are raised to higher welfare standards.

Find out more.

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