The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is Australia’s leading independent certification scheme focused on animal welfare. We work closely with farmers to make a positive impact on the lives of farm animals by providing an environment that meets their needs. Millions of hens, pigs, chickens, turkeys and salmon have benefitted from better farm conditions since the Scheme began.
The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme’s mission is to improve the lives of as many farm animals as possible, today.
To achieve this, the RSPCA has developed detailed animal welfare standards that go beyond what’s legally required in Australia.
Since that Scheme began in 1996, more than 2.5 billion farm animals have lived a better quality of life. Find out more about our impact here.
COVID-19 has necessitated a temporary change to how assessments of farms participating in the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme take place. In normal circumstances, farms are visited by RSPCA Assessors a minimum of twice a year. However for the time being, when scheduled on site assessments are not possible, remote virtual assessments will be implemented. Please see our update for further information.
While we respect the choices of people that don’t eat meat or animal products, we believe we can work to improve the way farm animals are treated by getting involved in the processes and pushing government and industry for better farm production standards. We encourage people that do eat meat, fish and eggs to make good choices, which is why we focus on making higher welfare products readily available.
We’ve been operating for more than 20 years! Our animal welfare standards for layer hens were first launched in 1996, followed by standards for pigs in 2001 and standards for meat chickens and turkeys in 2010. Standards for farmed Atlantic salmon were released in 2016.
Assessment of farms against the Standards is a critical aspect of the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme. RSPCA Approved farms are assessed by an RSPCA Assessor 2–4 times a year, the assessment team may also conduct unscheduled visits. Our Assessors are well versed in farm animal behaviour and check that farms comply with the RSPCA’s standards.
RSPCA Approved farms receive regular assessments from an RSPCA Assessor to check that they are meeting the standards. Producers are also required to submit information detailing both production data and any on-farm issues between assessments.
Brands marketing products as RSPCA Approved must have traceability systems in place to ensure these products are clearly identified, kept separate from other products, and can be traced from point of sale back through to the farm.
Like many Australians, we believe that all animals should be treated humanely, whether they’re animals we eat, farm or live with as companions.
In the absence of better legal requirements for Australia’s most intensively farmed animals, the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme was developed as a solution to drive better welfare standards on farm.
As an organisation committed to science-based animal welfare policies, one of the most meaningful ways we can improve the lives of farmed animals is to ensure they are reared in an environment that meets their individual needs and encourages them to express their natural behaviours.
Find out more about the RSPCA’s role in Australian agriculture here.
Our standards set a high level for animal welfare by aiming to give some of Australia’s most intensively farmed animals a better quality of life. They reach beyond the current legal requirements while still being commercially viable.
RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards are based on animal welfare science, RSPCA policy, leading farming practices in Australia and overseas and take account of the commercial realities associated with farming. Livestock industries and individual producers also provide input. The standards are reviewed every five years and are publicly available.
‘Free range’, ‘outdoor bred’ and ‘cage free’ are all used to describe systems used for housing farm animals.
Consumers should read labels carefully and choose products checked or accredited by reputable organisations that have standards available for you to compare, like the RSPCA. Without nationally agreed definitions or standards for product labelling, terms like ‘free range’ can be used without informing consumers how much access the animals really have to the outdoors.
The RSPCA’s standards accommodate farming systems that may house animals in enriched indoor environments; or in systems where they are housed in a large shed with outdoor access (free range); or in systems that have animals living in paddocks with sheds providing protection from the weather (free range).
Many farm animals with access to outdoors will spend a lot of time inside a shed. This means that conditions and space inside the shed are very important.
Free range meat chickens for example, spend the first three weeks of their lives (until they are fully feathered) inside and then are usually locked in the shed overnight to protect them from foxes and other predators.
RSPCA Approved farms that allow animals access to the outdoors are required to meet the RSPCA’s indoor housing standards plus the outdoor standards.
Good animal welfare isn’t just about outdoor access or stocking density. Our standards focus on a combination of factors in order to provide animals with a better quality of life.
RSPCA Approved farms raise animals to our detailed animal welfare standards and are assessed regularly to ensure conformance. Brands sourcing from RSPCA Approved farms must have traceability systems in place to trace product from point of sale right back through to the farm.
Find out more here.
Cage eggs come from hens confined in battery cages. With each bird provided with less space than an A4 sheet of paper, there is no room for the hens to perch, nest, forage, stretch, dust bathe or flap their wings. More than 10 million layer hens live in battery cages in Australia. While all production systems have advantages and disadvantages, there’s overwhelming evidence that cages cannot meet the needs of layer hens. This is why the RSPCA is campaigning for an end to battery cages.
Barn-laid eggs come from hens that are able to move about in large sheds.
A barn-laid system that meets RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards will meet the needs of hens and can be just as good for a layer hen welfare as a free-range system.
Donations to the RSPCA are not used to fund the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme.
A company or producer that wishes to participate in the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme must meet the RSPCA’s detailed animal welfare Standards and be subject to a rigorous certification program. This program includes participating in frequent on-site assessments by RSPCA Assessors who provide their reports to the RSPCA Certification Body for review.
The costs of running the Scheme, including having RSPCA Assessors visit farms and the RSPCA Certification Body overseeing these assessments, is covered by a licensing fee. This fee is paid by those that use the RSPCA Approved brand and is calculated with consideration of how much it costs to have the company, brand or producer participate and be certified.
The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme exists to improve the lives of farm animals and is a not-for-profit program.
Licensing fees charged to companies participating in the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme are quarantined and used only to fund the Scheme – they do not fund campaigns.
Producers and brand owners that want to improve animal welfare on their farms, or wish to have their efforts recognised, can apply to join the Scheme and implement the RSPCA’s detailed animal welfare standards. To get started, we recommend reviewing the relevant species Standards, along with the Scheme’s Operations Manual and get in touch to discuss.
The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is owned and operated by RSPCA Australia.
The RSPCA established the Approved Farming Scheme as part of its efforts to improve the lives of Australia’s farm animals and provide guidance and a trustworthy choice to consumers wanting to purchase products from higher welfare production systems.
See the Operations Manual for more information on the processes behind the Scheme.
A product that’s organic is not necessarily higher welfare. Organic agriculture has a focus on avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals, such as synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, hormones and antibiotics. Organic meat production usually includes access to the outdoors, but the exact standards vary.
While antibiotics are used to treat disease, no hormones are used in animal production under the Scheme.
Meat chickens in Australia are not fed growth hormones, their growth rate is due to their genetics and selective breeding. Elsewhere in the world meat chickens may be given growth hormones but this is not the case for Australian meat chickens.
In Australia, meat chickens are not kept in cages. Most are raised in large, environmentally-controlled sheds and some also have daytime access to the outdoors once they are fully feathered.
Layer hens and meat chickens are two breeds of bird grown for different purposes. Layer hens are egg-laying specialists, while meat chickens are bred to produce meat.
Meat chickens and turkeys raised in conventional systems spend their life in barren, cramped and dimly lit environments. Birds are discouraged from moving about and eat continuously, gaining weight rapidly which causes severe welfare problems, including weak legs, eye and respiratory issues and in some cases heart failure. Weak legs means increased contact with often damp litter, causing foot pad burns, hock burns and breast blisters.
Pigs raised in intensive indoor systems (including sow-stall free) don’t have the ability to express natural behaviours, such as foraging and nesting. The close confinement of pigs in indoor systems raises welfare concerns because the lack of freedom and barrenness of their surroundings can lead to stress, injury and abnormal behaviours. To reduce the incidence of tail biting piglets endure painful procedures without anaesthetic, such as having their tails docked and teeth clipped.
Sow-stall free, while a very positive first step, isn’t always a guarantee of good welfare.
In sow-stall free systems, pigs can still be kept in barren environments and sows (mother pigs) can still be confined to farrowing crates (similar to sow stalls) for a couple of weeks at a time to give birth to their piglets.
Sow-stall free is also not a certification scheme, but rather a marketing term. So aspects of pig’s lives will only need to adhere to the legal minimums. Which is why independent certification schemes focused on animal welfare, such as the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme, are key in ensuring good welfare throughout the life of pigs on farm.
‘Bred free-range’ and ‘outdoor bred’ refer to products from pigs (pork, bacon, ham) that were born in a free-range environment before being raised indoors.
The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme combination (or sometimes it’s called outdoor bred) system requires piglets born outdoors to be raised in eco-shelters once they’ve been weaned. There must be plenty of straw bedding from them to play with and forage in.
Unfortunately, finding higher welfare bacon is really hard right now and finding RSPCA Approved bacon is impossible. Here’s why and what you can do to help.
Aquaculture remains one of the fastest-growing animal protein production sectors in the world, so as an animal welfare organisation, the RSPCA considers it critical that good farm animal welfare is seen as a crucial component of this.
RSPCA Australia aims to improve the lives of as many farm animals as possible, including farmed fish. One way in which we do this is through the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme. Since releasing animal welfare standards for farmed Atlantic salmon in 2016, more than 11.9 million fish have benefitted from better conditions on farm.
Find out more answers to questions about how the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is improving the lives of farmed salmon.
Yes. Aquaculture companies participating in the Scheme in addition to meeting government regulations, must demonstrate ongoing compliance with a recognised, third-party audited certification scheme that promotes best environmental practice. For more information visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase.
Maintaining good fish welfare by protecting farmed Atlantic salmon from predators, such as seals and sea birds is critical to the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards. Fish are vulnerable to stress, injuries and mortalities as a result of interactions with predators.
The RSPCA believes that exclusion measures must be the primary method of preventing seals and sea birds from attacking salmon. The design of pens must be effective in keeping seals out while keeping fish safe. Good pen design greatly reduces the number of instances of seals injuring and killing fish and also prevents seals and birds from becoming trapped inside pens. Find out more
Due to the current environmental conditions and risk of poor welfare outcomes for fish, the RSPCA’s standards currently don’t permit, farming of salmon in Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania. This means that any salmon sourced from Macquarie Harbour can’t be labelled as RSPCA Approved. To make sure you’re buying RSPCA Approved salmon, look for the RSPCA Approved logo on pack.
Australian lamb and beef products come from animals born and raised outdoors, so yes, they can be called free range.
Some sheep and cattle may have been held in feedlots in the last stage of their life to increase their growth rate prior to slaughter and to help ensure consistency in meat quality. This product is sometimes called ‘grain fed’. Read more
The nature of beef and lamb farming in Australia means that animals generally aren’t affected by the same welfare concerns related to behavioural restriction faced by animals in intense confinement (such as can be experienced by layer hens, pigs, meat chickens, turkeys and ducks). We will look into the feasibility of introducing higher welfare standards for cattle and sheep. In the meantime, as a consumer you can contact the makers of your favourite beef and lamb products and ask them about standards of care for their animals.
While the majority of Australian dairy cows spend most of the day on green pasture, the RSPCA is concerned about some welfare issues in the dairy industry, including the treatment of bobby calves, mastitis and lameness in cows, calf induction, and calve dehorning.
As a consumer, you can contact the makers of your favourite dairy products and ask them about their standards of care for cows and calves. Read more
Raising excess dairy calves for veal or beef is one way to increase the value of an animal that would otherwise be considered a by-product and destined for slaughter at five days old. By increasing their value and providing an alternative market, there is real potential to improve the welfare of some of the many hundreds of thousands of calves slaughtered each year.
Find out more here about how dairy calf welfare can be improved.
Veal is the meat from young dairy, beef or dairy-cross-beef calves. Male dairy or dairy-cross calves don’t produce milk so they aren’t required in the dairy herd. Dairy or dairy-cross calves that are selected to be raised for veal are usually picked up from the dairy farm where they were born and raised on specialist calf-rearing properties. Similar to lamb, veal calves are slaughtered around 8 months of age with their meat destined for high-value markets that meet veal consumer expectations for taste and tenderness.
Veal crates are not used in Australia. Calves raised for veal or beef usually grow up on specialist calf-rearing properties, where they are reared in groups in sheds (usually with access to the outdoors or pasture) and fed milk or milk replacer and a grain-based ration. The RSPCA’s standards for dairy calves who are reared for veal or beef set a higher level for animal welfare.
The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme Standard – Meat Chickens sets specific requirements for the transportation, handling, stunning and slaughter of meat chickens. Assessors conduct yearly assessments at abattoirs, where chickens from RSPCA Approved farms are sent for slaughter, to ensure they are meeting these requirements. Included in the standard is the requirement for CCTV in any areas where live birds are handled or processed at abattoirs. CCTV must also be routinely monitored by authorised staff to ensure standards are maintained.
The RSPCA believes that humane killing is: ‘when an animal is either killed instantly or rendered insensible until death ensues, without pain, suffering or distress’. When killing animals for food (slaughter), this means they must be stunned prior to bleeding out so they immediately become unconscious. Find out more here.
Pre-slaughter stunning is standard practice in the vast majority of Australian abattoirs producing halal-certified meat. But some halal and all kosher slaughter is carried out without prior stunning.
The RSPCA is concerned there are much greater risks of an animal suffering during slaughter without stunning. Slaughtering an animal while fully conscious requires additional handling and restraint and means that the animal will experience pain associated with the throat cut and subsequent bleeding out. For these reasons, the RSPCA is strongly opposed to all forms of slaughter that do not involve prior stunning of the animal and has asked governments – state and federal – to remove arrangements that allow unstunned slaughter. Find out more
Australians are driving change for some of our country’s most intensively farmed animals, simply through their purchasing decisions. Companies who recognise this and become RSPCA Approved or source RSPCA Approved ingredients are leading the way in improving welfare for millions of farm animals every year.
You can see which brands have RSPCA Approved products here.
There are common practices in farming that don’t meet the animals’ behavioural, social or physiological needs however are not illegal. This includes housing hens in battery cages and confining pigs in sow stalls and farrowing crates. Find out more here
The RSPCA’s standards go above what’s currently allowed under law and ultimately aim to improve the conditions for farm animals by providing an environment where animals can express their natural behaviours. Battery cages, sow stalls and farrowing crates are not allowed on RSPCA Approved farms.