International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

IVU News

Animal Welfare Society in Meat Marketing Scheme
By Mike Elam, founder of Stop Animal Suffering.
IVU News 2-97

photo Readers in other countries may be surprised to learn that the UKs oldest animal welfare society, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has entered the nasty world of meat marketing. As this is such a backward step for both vegetarianism and animal rights, I will explain how it happened and then suggest a better way to improve conditions for farm animals without encouraging meat eating.

The sad saga, in essence, is as follows. A scheme known as Freedom Food was set up by the RSPCA in 1994. Farmers rearing animals under certain conditions, specified and monitored by the society, could apply the Freedom Food label to their products, which would then be sold in the normal way through supermarkets and shops nationwide. The labels read: Freedom Food - RSPCA monitored, but they might as well say approved, because that is surely what most people will understand them to mean.

I can accept that the kernel of the Freedom Food idea may have been a sincere desire with the best of motives to improve the appalling conditions suffered by the majority of farm animals in Britain. However, it is bound to send a confusing message to meat eaters and to wavering vegetarians to the effect that meat eating is somehow acceptable, particularly if it apparently has the seal of approval of the most widely known and respected animal welfare society.

I believe, therefore, that this ill considered and ethically flawed scheme will have the effect of sanctioning meat eating and at the very least revivifying the declining meat trade at the very moment when sensible people are beginning to turn away, especially for health reasons, from the practice of eating dead animals. Instead of encouraging a healthy and cruelty-free lifestyle, the RSPCA is encouraging its members and the general public to buy Freedom Food meat. This presumably means that they can now eat with a clear conscience such delicacies as pork, chicken, beef, ham, eggs, sausages, lamb and, believe it or not, the latest product to receive the seal of approval is veal, which had been almost a byword for cruelty in the British mind until now, at least.

We were told to expect profits from the scheme, but rumours abound of huge losses which can only be to the detriment of all animals. Critics of the scheme are ridiculed for not living in the real world or expecting everyone to turn vegan overnight and risk expulsion from the society. Yet many feel strongly, as I do, that a tragic error has been born of a genuine desire to alleviate the suffering of animals.

Most bizarrely, it transpires that the Freedom Food scheme is totally superfluous, merely duplicating a similar scheme administered by the Soil Association, the body which regulates organic foods. Why, one wonders, could the RSPCA not have worked with this group, especially as it now seems that the welfare codes stipulated by the RSPCA are less stringent than those of the Soil Association? And when it comes to specifying welfare standards for farm animals, I am sure that compromise will be the inevitable rule and farmers will have far too much influence. It is difficult to see how an already overstretched organisation can even begin to monitor the codes on farms up and down the country. Yet the RSPCA claims to have made a significant improvement to the lives of more than 10 million animals since the launch of the scheme.

What if Freedom Food is not taken up by the big food retailers? Shall we see the RSPCA opening butchers shops? And what next? With this line of thinking, should we expect to see Freedom Fur and Cruelty-free Vivisection? Where will it all end? An ill thought through idea designed to improve the lot of animals could so easily turn into a nightmarish vehicle ensuring their continued abuse.

I implore you not to let this happen in your country. When the Freedom Food scheme was foisted on members of the RSPCA at an annual general meeting there was no strong opposition as we were all caught unaware. None of the leading lights of the animal rights movement spoke up to condemn the scheme or threatened to campaign against it if it went ahead. If you want to stop similar schemes in your country, I suggest that you should take the following actions:

  • Join the main animal welfare/rights groups.
  • Obtain their annual general meeting agendas.
  • Alert those in the movement whose voices carry weight about any proposals giving rise to concern (those people must also belong to the welfare groups and be willing to go to the meetings).
  • Attend the meetings and encourage others to speak up against schemes which promote meat eating and will therefore be of no long-term benefit to animals.
Be vigilant: dont let your animal protection groups jump into bed with the farmers and never ever let the name of an animal society appear on a lump of flesh in a butchers shop. Meaningful improvements in conditions for farm animals are best brought about by persuading more and more people to stop eating them, as we all know. Until such time as we achieve our goal, I strongly recommend support for organisations such as Compassion in World Farming (active in the UK, Ireland and France), which seek to improve welfare standards through reform of the law and by giving people information so that they can use their consumer power. There is then no need for a labelling scheme which links animal products with animal welfare groups and the pitfall into which the RSPCA has perhaps unwittingly fallen can be avoided.

Contributions to IVU News are welcomed. Material published does not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or the policy of the International Vegetarian Union.