Happier animals

Tim Young - 07 March 2012

It was great to see John Craven take a look at labelling of food and what labels actually mean for animal welfare on last night's Countryfile. Obviously I'm biased (as I work here), but I thought on balance it was pretty clear that if you want the best animal welfare then seeking out the Soil Association label is definitely worthwhile. 

Consumer labelling is a subject slightly closer to my heart than I'd normally care to admit (in mitigation I spent my twenties working for Which? magazine), and when you work closely in any area it is easy to lose sight of how the wider world sees what you're doing. I was therefore intrigued to see what John and the Countryfile team would make of the differences between Red Tractor, Freedom Food and Soil Association Organic labelling. By looking at farming systems across the different assurance marks for pork, beef and poultry, John explained what each label means on a number of different animal welfare requirements. And while all three assurance schemes are probably better than nothing, it was good to be reminded that following Soil Association standards really does make a real difference to animals' lives – and also to get some explanation of why organic can sometimes cost more; in the case of meat chickens, it's because they live (and hence get fed) for more than two-and-a-half times as long as birds kept in some other farm systems. 

In a time when we're all under financial strain – both 'consumers' like me and organic producers alike – it's worth being reminded just why organic is the gold standard for animal welfare. If you need reminding, or you don't want to take my word for it (and I've already admitted I'm biased!) then take a look at the show on iPlayer in the next week. You can find it by clicking on the image below – the John Craven segment is at 9:44 and again at 23:07.
Still image from BBC Countryfile

Tim is editor of the Soil Association's Living Earth magazine, and has written on food, health and consumer issues for the last decade. 

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