It’s a question that has been posed to the RSPCA many times in the twenty-seven years the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme has been operating. And it’s certainly an interesting dichotomy. Why is an animal welfare organisation working with those in the farming sector who raise animals for food products?
While it may seem unusual at first glance, ultimately there are many good reasons why, some simple and some more nuanced. At the crux of the matter, the goal of RSPCA Approved is to improve farmed animal welfare in a way that makes a meaningful impact to animals farmed in Australia today, while working from within to encourage the changes that lead to a future of higher-welfare farming as the norm, not the exception.
While a number of people choose to adopt a reductionist or plant-based diet, the majority of people continue to include animal products in their diets, and that means animal agriculture isn’t going to end anytime soon.
The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme was developed as one of the RSPCA’s mechanisms to address the lack of adequate welfare standards in Australian farming. There remains a clear and urgent need for an independent, third-party certification run by a reputable animal welfare organisation with stringent standards that go beyond legal requirements to encourage better husbandry practices and raise the bar for animal welfare in farming.
The RSPCA Approved Standards are animal-specific, regularly evolving and informed by the latest animal welfare science available. In practice they mean that animals farmed to the standards are provided with enriched environments, more space, and are encouraged to express their natural behaviours.
Alongside prohibiting some of the most harmful practices such as the use of cages, tail docking and teeth clipping, RSPCA Approved Standards have requirements to ensure the people managing animals are well trained, qualified and supervised – as good stockpersonship is also a crucial piece in the animal welfare puzzle. Importantly, farms and abattoirs within a producer’s scope of certification are regularly assessed by specially trained Assessors, to make sure their staff, operations and animal care continually meet the welfare requirements.
For as long as animals continue to be farmed, we believe one of the most meaningful ways we can ensure better animal welfare, is to work with the people directly involved in how these animals are reared and cared for. There can often be a discord between animal welfare advocates and the farming industry regarding welfare issues, with the animals being farmed suffering the consequences of this fractured approach.
By working with producers to implement changes that better cater for their animal’s physical and behavioural needs, more animals directly benefit, and an example is set to other producers that being commercially viable doesn’t need to come at a cost to animal welfare.
The purpose of RSPCA Approved is not to promote eating animal-based products, and we understand that when made aware of the realities of commercial farming, some may choose to avoid using or consuming them altogether.
And for those who do choose to continue consuming meat, fish, eggs or dairy, we want them to be informed about where their food has come from and to have the option to choose higher-welfare products from producers that prioritise animal welfare. Importantly, these choices not only mean a better life for those animals, but they send a strong message that the Australian community values farmed animal welfare and wants stakeholders in the industry to reflect those values in their practices.
There are some groups who believe animals should not be farmed for food and fibre at all, and who advocate for an end to animal agriculture altogether. At the opposite end of that spectrum are those that believe animals can and should be farmed , including farmers and producers who meet the current demand from consumers, and presently rely on animal production for their livelihood.
The RSPCA doesn’t hold either of these philosophical positions. With the goal of progressing animal welfare and making achievable improvements to how farmed animals are treated in the current climate, the RSPCA seeks to occupy a practical position somewhere in the middle.
Preventing cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection is the RSPCA’s mission and this includes the animals farmed now and in the foreseeable future. While the current context of commercial farming in Australia means meeting the high bar set by the RSPCA’s animal welfare policies isn’t always possible with the implementation of RSPCA Approved, the evolving nature of the standards and the increasing uptake of RSPCA Approved certification bring us closer to the overall goal of higher-welfare farming in Australia, while continuing to improve animals lives in the meantime.
Of course, RSPCA Approved is just one of the ways in which the RSPCA works towards improving the lives of farmed animals. We work hard to educate the community and advocate for farmed animals on several important issues including live sheep export, barren battery cages, pig welfare and mulesing, for example. Through actions like meeting with key decision makers, petitioning to parliament, holding governments accountable, contributing to working groups and panels, providing educational resources to the community and much more, the RSPCA is working every day to encourage continuous improvement for farmed animal welfare, so that every farmed animal can be assured a better quality of life.
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