The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is Australia’s leading independent accreditation 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 and turkeys have benefited from better farm conditions since the Scheme began.
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 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 visited by an RSPCA Assessor 2–4 times a year, with additional 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 visits 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.
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 being still 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’, ‘bred free-range’ 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.
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 11 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.
RSPCA Approved 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 (free range) will spend a lot of time inside a shed. This means that conditions and space inside the shed are very important. Producers that allow animals access to the outdoors are required to meet the RSPCA’s indoor housing standards plus the outdoor standards.
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.
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.
The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is not-for-profit. Royalty payments received from companies marketing their products as RSPCA Approved are used to fund the Scheme.
Royalties received from companies participating in the 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.
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.
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 anesthetic, such as having their tails docked and teeth clipped.
‘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.
It’s been twenty years since the RSPCA established the Approved Farming Scheme and in that time, more than 805 million hens, pigs, chickens and turkeys have benefited from better conditions on farm. Read the 2016 Impact Report
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. Read the 2014 Impact Report
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). While 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 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 tens of thousands of calves slaughtered each year.
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 usually grow up on specialist calf-rearing properties, where they are reared in groups in sheds (with access to the outdoors or pasture) and fed milk or milk replacer and a grain-based ration. The RSPCA’s standards for dairy veal calves set a high level for animal welfare.
There are two types of religious slaughter carried out in Australia – halal (under Islam) and kosher (under Judaism). Kosher meat products are from animals that have not been stunned and are therefore conscious during slaughter. Halal meat products (beef, lamb and chicken) sold in major Australian retailers are from animals that have been stunned and are unconscious during slaughter. There are a small number of animals that are not stunned during slaughter for some halal products.
Product from animals not stunned at slaughter are usually sold in specialist stores. There are a total of eight abattoirs (New South Wales (2), South Australia (3) and Victoria (3)) that the federal and state governments allow to conduct unstunned halal and kosher slaughter.
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 to remove arrangements that allow unstunned slaughter.