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RSPCA ‘Freedom Food’

I was reading about meat labelling in The River Cottage Meat Book (which I’d recommend, so far, though I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes yet). He mentioned that meat labelled as ‘RSPCA Monitored Freedom Food‘ wasn’t, as you might expect, free range – just produced with slightly more regard for animal welfare than the legal minimum requirements for intensive farming. Which was a bit of a blow since I was just preparing to cook a Freedom chicken, bought in the assumption that it would be, if anything, a step up from ‘free range’.

I can see the argument for the RSPCA giving approval to some intensively farmed chickens. Intensive chickens account for 98% of the birds reared in the UK, and the RSPCA has to engage with the industry somehow; encouraging the producers to treat their birds slightly less badly is a good start.

I just think the choice of branding – ‘Freedom Food’ – is a real misjudgement, because I think most people will see it and assume it means ‘free range’, just as I did when I glanced at the chicken label. The concept of ‘free range’ chicken is devalued enough, without weakening it further. I basically feel I was misled by the packaging, and not in a way which benefits animal welfare. In future, I’m just not buying chicken or pork from the supermarket unless it’s organic. That seems to be the only labelling scheme that means anything.

3 replies on “RSPCA ‘Freedom Food’”

Curious — what does organic certification mean in the UK? Who does the certifying?

It’s been an interesting battle here in the U.S. trying to get federal organic standards without diluting them into meaninglessness. One thing that I find interesting about organic certifcation is that a lot of the truly small farmers I know here in Minnesota who produce food in an ethical way aren’t certified organic, because the process of becoming certified is expensive, and only fairly large producers can afford it. I sometimes look here for the Midwest Food Alliance certification label, which even though it doesn’t require farmers to be pesticide-free is still (to me) an even better assurance of ethical farming than organic certification (

I gave up on non-organic supermarket meat a long time ago, too — I got so creeped out just thinking where the animals had been and what had been done to them and what residues of all that I might be eating that I got sick to my stomach trying to eat the stuff. We try to know most of the farmers who produce our food; not easy to do (find me the farmer that produces popsicles or boxed macaroni and cheese, the preferred culinary delights of my three-year-old) but mostly fun and worthwhile, and usually cheaper than buying organic.

Organic food in the UK is generally certified by the Soil Association, who are a charity/pressure group.

There are legal definitions of things like ‘free range’ established by the government and/or the EU, but they aren’t really stringent enough, imo. But then if I had my way, current methods of intensive meat production would be illegal anyway. Even the organic label doesn’t necessarily imply best practice, because there are always going to be people who do the absolutely bare minimum to get certification and stretch the rules as far as they can to save money; but at least it’s a guarantee that they aren’t intensively reared.

I actually have a few issues with the way that the organic movement has hijacked the healthy eating agenda, but from an animal welfare perspective they’re the only practical choice. That Midwest Food Alliance thing sounds like a good idea to me, in principal; a commitment to all-round better farming practices – environmental, wildlife habitat, animal welfare and so on – without necessarily preventing use of small amounts of chemicals when necessary. Assuming their particular standards are the right ones, and strictly applied enough.

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