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.