How does ‘Freedom Food’ compare with Free Range food?

Chickens outdoors in the grass. (Photo by woodleywonderworks - CC-BY)

Chickens outdoors in the grass. (Photo by woodleywonderworks - CC-BY)

UK supermarkets now label some meat, fish, and eggs as “freedom food” or “freedom foods”. If this sounds pretty much the same as free range food to you, look again. You may have been confused by the similar-sounding words free and freedom.

‘Freedom Food’ is the name of a programme designed to improve the lives of animals in intensive farming, also known as battery farming. The RSPCA, a leading animal welfare charity, has set minimum standards based on their knowledge of how things work in the food industry, as well as on their commitment to animals’ well-being. There are different guidelines for each species, thought through by experts with relevant experience.

Their standards are nothing like what we normally think of as “free range”. Although it’s relatively easy for sheep grazing in a field to live quite a free ranging life, the situation is often very different for poultry and pigs.

For example, free range chickens must be allowed out of the hen-house into grassy enclosures for half the day, according to DEFRA, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  By contrast, freedom food poultry does not normally get out of doors, and may not even see daylight through a window – until the rules change in January 2010 to guarantee them some exposure to natural light.

Freedom food pigs must be kept in groups, not isolated, since they are naturally social animals. The group may be in a small space with just enough room to turn round or lie down, and a minimum of 8 hours a day with lighting. There is no legal regulation of “free range” pork so you need to ask the shop or the producer what conditions the pigs have lived in.

The RSPCA are trying to improve the current situation in intensive animal rearing, and encourage shoppers to accept nothing less than their Freedom Food standards. As they say, “If consumers make a regular choice for higher welfare products and ask retailers to stock them, more producers will be encouraged to join high welfare schemes and more farm animals will benefit.” A good scheme, surely? Or do you feel it’s odd for an animal welfare organisation to appear to sanction battery farming? Perhaps it just brings home to you how different the lives of intensively-reared animals are from children’s storybook farm animals?

There are people who feel that nothing less than days of freedom outside in the open air will do for the animals being raised for their dinner.  This means more expensive meat, and leads some households to choose a “flexitarian”  kind of diet, where meat is an occasional food, rather than a once, twice, or three times a day menu staple.

Organic meat, fish and eggs are a different thing again, produced with even stricter ideals than free range food. The Food Standards Agency gives an overview of the EU regulations for organic food in force in the UK.

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