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Does ‘RSPCA Assured’ protect animals at all?

Updated: Jan 20

Last time we talked about the Red Tractor scheme and how little it truly means for the animals it claims to protect. What’s the situation for another well-known label, RSPCA Assured? How much does it really diverge from standard industry practice?

Let’s take a look at just a few of the practices that RSPCA Assured endorses as part of their promise that the product will match their standards for ‘farm animal welfare’:

  • Grinding up or gassing male egg-laying chicks is still allowed; indeed, it is the standard across the industry, regardless of whether the label reads ‘free range’, ‘organic’, ‘barn raised’, etcetera.

  • Debeaking. Up to one-third of the beak can be cut off under the RSPCA’s rules. The beaks of chickens are extremely sensitive—the equivalent of our fingertips, and the main way they explore and interact with the world. Debeaked birds often have trouble preening and feeding properly, and studies have demonstrated that they suffer chronic pain.

  • Lifelong, intensive confinement. The ‘Freedom Foods’ label was changed to ‘RSPCA Assured’ 2015 in response to claims that it misled customers into believing products with the label necessarily came from free-range animals.

  • Early separation of piglets from mothers. Despite admitting that separating piglets in this manner can result in welfare problems and that 4 weeks is preferrable, RSPCA Assured still allows as few as 3 weeks—as is industry standard. (In nature, piglets would stay with their mother for 12 weeks.)

  • Tail-docking and teeth clipping of piglets; no painkillers required. Just DEFRA does, the RSPCA suggests that it only be done in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Both are routinely carried out across the industry.

  • The separation of calves from dairy cows after a 24 hour period. (Separation within a day or two of birth—and often within hours—is standard for the industry.)

  • The slaughter of male dairy calves. Among the methods permitted are shooting the calf either with a gun or with a captive bolt–again, standard across the industry.

  • And in 2018, Head of Campaigns David Bowles defended the slaughter of seals for salmon farms as an act of ‘humane pest control’

So it appears that the RSPCA’s standards match pretty neatly with what the industry is already doing. What’s more, despite their promises that farms carrying their label have been ‘assessed to the RSPCA’s farm animal welfare standards’, multiple undercover investigations have revealed either that the farms haven’t been assessed enough…or the RSPCA’s standards have a long way to go.

For example, at these RSPCA Assured farms…

  • 2018: Coombe Farm, an organic dairy farm in Somerset, was subject to undercover investigations which revealed that newborn calves were being thrown and force-fed by workers, dragged away from their mothers by their hind legs and sworn at, as well as being denied water for up to 24 hours during the hottest day of the year. (View footage here.)

  • 2019: Trees Farm and Brome Grange Farm, ‘ethical’ chicken farms which were also endorsed by Red Tractor as well as the RSPCA. An investigation which was carried out over 3 months found that employees were regularly kicking and throwing the birds as well as ignoring sick and dying ones during their daily ‘welfare’ checks, leaving them to suffer for days. One worker even urinated into a bucket and threw seriously injured chickens into it several hours later. (View footage here.)

  • 2020: Hoads Farm, which produces free-range eggs. Over a six month period at this 32,000 hen farm, undercover investigators recorded footage of hundreds of rotting corpses and hens with raw, infected cloacae as well as general filth and overcrowding. (View footage here.)

Farms are in the business of making money, so the reality is that labels like ‘free-range’ and ‘humane’ mean surprisingly little when it comes to the rights or welfare of the animals they’re attached to. The only way to truly be kind to animals is to go vegan and stop exploiting their bodies and reproductive systems entirely.

Here are a few resources to help you make that first step towards a more compassionate lifestyle!

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