Why should people care about what they are eating?

The RSPCA believes you can eat meat or eggs and still care about the welfare of the animals that provide it. These animals are living, feeling creatures, capable of experiencing fear, pain and distress. The RSPCA believes all animals should be treated humanely, whether they’re animals we eat, farm or live with as companions.

What is Humane Food?

Humane food is food that is animal welfare friendly. Standards on humane or higher welfare farms are higher than those in conventional systems and those required by law. Their environment provides for the animal’s behavioural and physiological needs. It means that from the paddock to the plate, animals have been treated humanely and with full consideration of their needs as living, feeling creatures.

Why is the RSPCA involved with Humane Food?

The RSPCA’s Humane Food initiatives form part of RSPCA Australia’s efforts to improve the welfare of farm production animals. The RSPCA aims to increase the number of animals farmed in higher welfare production systems and to increase the market share of higher welfare products available to consumers. The RSPCA is working to educate consumers about where their food comes from and increase demand for higher welfare products through its Humane Food programs, including the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme, Choose Wisely and the Good Egg Awards.

Why isn’t the RSPCA a vegetarian organisation?

Just as the RSPCA respects the choices of people who don’t eat meat or animal products, we also respect those individuals who do choose to eat meat. The RSPCA is not a vegetarian or vegan organisation. The RSPCA believes we can do far more to improve how farm animals are treated by getting involved in the process and constantly pushing for improved farm production standards than by telling people not to eat meat at all.

The RSPCA encourages people who do eat meat and eggs to make a higher welfare choice, and to help them do this the RSPCA is focused on ensuring higher welfare alternatives are readily available.

What is the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme?

The RSPCA has developed animal welfare standards for the care of layer hens, pigs, meat chickens and turkeys. The standards ensure that animals in these farming systems are provided with an environment that meets their behavioural and physiological needs.

The Scheme was developed as the RSPCA’s alternative to conventional farming systems. The RSPCA works closely with producers and to make a positive impact on the lives of farm production animals.

How do I know if a product is RSPCA Approved?

Once a farm has been approved by the RSPCA, products from these farms can be stamped and sold with the RSPCA Approved Farming ‘Paw of Approval’ logo. This logo tells consumers that the product has come from a farm that meets the RSPCA’s standards. Food packaging may also refer to the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme, for example, ‘Sourced from RSPCA Approved farms’.

Where can I find RSPCA Approved products?

Find your nearest stockist of RSPCA Approved products by using the search tool above. The RSPCA currently approves pork, egg, chicken and turkey.

How often are RSPCA Approved farms assessed?

Farmers whose farms meet the RSPCA's standards apply to join the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme and once approved, farms are assessed by RSPCA Assessors at least twice a year.

How are the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards developed?

The RSPCA standards focus on the animal welfare aspect of farm production and are developed by RSPCA Australia. The standards are developed following the completion of a comprehensive literature review that examines animal welfare science in Australia and abroad. The RSPCA Science team then looks at a variety of farm production systems by consulting with industry and visiting farms and processing plants. The standards take into account farming in the Australian environment and the commercial realities of farm production, without compromising animal welfare.

Are the RSPCA Approved Farming standards the highest standards possible?

The standards offer significantly higher welfare than conventional farming systems and what is required by law. They are regularly reviewed to ensure continual improvement.

However, to make a meaningful impact on as many animals as possible we must work with large scale producers and our standards must be achievable.

Having a Scheme that no one can join will do nothing for animal welfare. In saying that, what sets our Scheme apart from conventional systems is that high animal welfare is central to all our standards.

Why does the RSPCA work with farmers who also have cage or conventional production systems?

The RSPCA only approves higher welfare production systems, but will work with farmers who operate both systems, known as parallel production. The RSPCA will only approve the higher welfare system, but there may be conventional production also on farm or on another site operated by the farm. The RSPCA does this because our aim is to improve the lives of as many farm animals as possible and by working with these farmers, there is greater opportunity to show producers the benefits of higher welfare farming, and encourage them to convert their conventional systems to higher welfare.

In parallel production systems, there must be suitable traceability processes in place to ensure there is no substitution of higher welfare with conventional product.

Does the RSPCA make a financial profit from the Scheme?

RSPCA Australia does receive royalty payments from companies selling RSPCA Approved products. However these royalties are used exclusively to fund the costs associated with running the Scheme including twice yearly assessments, administration and marketing of the Scheme. The Scheme is not, and does not aim to be, a moneymaking venture. The sole aim is to improve conditions for farm animals.

What other species will be included in the Approved Farming Scheme?

Given the serious welfare issues facing hens in cages, sows in sow stalls and traditional farrowing crates, and meat chickens and turkeys in crowded sheds, the RSPCA believes it is important to first introduce a welfare-friendly alternative for these species. In time, the Scheme may include standards for other species such as sheep and beef cattle, dairy cows and fish.

What is free-range?

Free-range animals are animals that are not closely confined and have some access to the outdoors. How much access, how often, and how big the outdoor area is, can vary greatly.

Eggs - Free-range eggs come from hens that should have access to an outdoor area during the day.

At night, large flocks of free-range hens are kept in sheds or barns to keep them safe from predators, while smaller flocks may be kept in moveable sheds to allow rotational use of the range area. Conditions on free-range farms vary greatly. On some farms, the range area is large, the hens have access to shade and shelter, and all hens are able to come and go from the range during the day; on others the range area is small, bare and difficult for hens to access.

The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme requires that eggs marketed as RSPCA 'free-range' come from layer hens that have more space than those raised in conventional systems. They can perch, dustbathe, scratch and forage, and lay their eggs in a nest. RSPCA 'free-range' eggs come from hens that have ready access to an attractive range area during the day that provides them with shade, shelter and protection from predators.

Pork - Free-range pork comes from pigs that were born and raised with free access to the outdoors. That is, where the sows and growing piglets have access to paddocks, as well as huts or other forms of housing for shelter, and are not confined to sow stalls or farrowing crates.

The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme requires that pigs live in a well-managed outdoor system, or within enhanced indoor environments that cater for all their behavioural and physiological needs, or a combination of both (referred to as 'bred free-range'). You would not see sow stalls or farrowing crates on an RSPCA Approved pig farm. All pigs are reared, handled and transported with consideration and care and then slaughtered humanely.

Chicken and turkey - Free-range chicken and turkey meat comes from chickens and turkeys that have access to an outdoor area during the day. At night, the birds are kept in sheds or barns. Conditions on free-range farms vary greatly. On some farms, the range area is large, provides grass for foraging, has access to shade and shelter, and the birds are able to come and go from the range during the day; on others, the range area may be less attractive for the chickens or turkeys.

The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme requires that RSPCA chickens or turkeys comes from farms that focus on the housing conditions that affect bird welfare. Maintaining appropriate housing conditions by managing temperature, humidity, ventilation and lighting are key to ensuring good welfare for both species. The RSPCA Meat Chicken and Turkey standards allow for free-range and indoor production systems.

We hope to see RSPCA Approved chicken and turkey meat on supermarket shelves in the very near future.

What are barn-laid eggs?

Barn-laid eggs are a good alternative to cage eggs and a well-managed barn can be just as good for a hen as a proper free-range facility. From an animal welfare perspective it’s a myth that barn is second best. It’s all about who is operating the system and to what standards they adhere to. RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards require that the hens in a barnlaid production system are provided with space for perching and litter for scratching and dust-bathing.

Many eggs are now being marketed as cage-free. Essentially, cage-free eggs are barn-laid eggs. Hens aren’t kept in cages but instead are free to roam in large sheds. All barns have nest boxes but not all barns have perches or litter (some barns have slats or wire-mesh flooring).

What is Bred free-range pork?

‘Bred free-range’ refers to products from pigs (pork, bacon, etc) that were born in a free-range environment but were subsequently raised indoors. These pigs may be raised in large open sheds with straw bedding (known as eco-shelters) or in small pens on concrete floors as in conventional pig farming systems.

The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme requires that pork marketed as RSPCA ‘bred free-range’ comes from farms where sows and boars range freely outside, piglets are born outside on the range and, once weaned, are raised in eco-shelters with straw bedding.

What is organic?

Organic agriculture has a focus on avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals, including synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, hormones and antibiotics. In animal production, organic farming also aims to provide a natural environment for animals and foster natural behaviours. Organic meat production usually includes access to the outdoors (free-range), but the exact standards of this can vary.

Organic foods for export must meet certain standards set by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. A number of organisations are accredited to certify organic produce for export and domestic use against these standards, and foods that are labelled as ‘certified organic’ have been certified in this way and meet the standards.

Is lamb and beef free-range?

Most lamb and beef products in Australia come from animals that were born and raised in extensive (outdoor) environments, so they can also be termed free-range. However, some cattle and sheep may have been held in feedlots in the last stage of their production to increase their growth rate prior to slaughter and to help ensure consistency in meat quality. A feedlot is a confined area where animals are fed daily rations of (mainly) grain to reach a certain target weight. By some definitions, ‘free range’ would exclude products from animals that had been held in feedlots.

What about dairy cows?

In contrast to the fairly intensive nature of dairy production overseas - where cows may be housed in sheds for their entire lives - most Australian dairy cows spend at least part of the day on green pasture. Welfare issues in the dairy industry include the treatment of bobby calves, mastitis and lameness in dairy cows, the induction of calves, tail docking of dairy cows, and dehorning of dairy calves. Australian dairy cows generally have lower levels of mastitis and lameness than those in the US and UK, are not routinely tail docked, and calves are not reared in extreme confinement.

In the absence of RSPCA standards for dairy production, we encourage consumers to contact the makers of their favourite dairy products and ask them about standards of care for cows and calves.

I’m confused by the terms on packaging, such as free-range, bred free-range and cage free?

‘Free-range’, ‘bred free-range’ and ‘cage-free’ are terms that are applied to animal food products. They refer to the systems used for housing farm animals.

The RSPCA believes that consumers would benefit from full and accurate information about the welfare of the animals (from birth to slaughter) used in the animal based products they buy to enable them to make informed purchasing decisions.

The absence of nationally agreed definitions or standards for product labelling allows the often arbitrary use of terms such as ‘free-range’ or ‘bred free-range’ to continue without being considered false representation.

At present, the only animal product that is regularly labelled according to its production system is eggs (which must be labelled as per the production system; cage, barn or free-range).

The RSPCA believes there are a variety of housing systems that can be humane, but only if they are well managed and adapted to meet the behavioural and physical needs of the animals. Consumers need to read the label carefully and find out whether the product has been accredited or approved by a reputable organisation like the RSPCA.

Why are free-range products more expensive?

Quite simply, farming animals to higher welfare standards costs farmers more money. There are a range of factors that influence these costs including access to land (if there is a range area), maintenance of the range, lower stocking densities, providing environmental enrichment such as straw, and slower animal growth rates.

Is Halal and Kosher meat humane?

Religious slaughter, also known as ritual slaughter, is the slaughter of livestock according to specific religious principles. There are two types of religious slaughter carried out in Australia: halal slaughter (under Islam) and kosher slaughter (under Judaism).

There are a number of abattoirs in Australia that have an exemption to slaughter sheep and cattle without stunning them first. This means animals are fully conscious when their throats are cut. These exemptions are given to abattoirs to meet a small demand in Australia for halal and kosher meat.

The RSPCA believes all animals must be slaughtered humanely, regardless of religious or cultural dogma. All available scientific evidence points to the fact that animals that are slaughtered without being stunned suffer painful, prolonged deaths. The RSPCA wants all exemptions for the slaughter of animals without prior stunning to be withdrawn.