PUBLISHED: 17:12 20 October 2009 | UPDATED: 16:18 20 February 2013
Farm Animal Week (October 19-25) aims to get more and more people thinking about where the food on theirplates comes from.
The scheme is widely supported by celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Antony Worrall Thompson and Phil Vickery - to mention but a few. The message for the week is simple - do your bit towards improving farm animal welfare by making an extra effort to buy or ask for welfarefriendly products, such as those with the Freedom Food label. Freedom Food is the RSPCA's farm animal welfare food labelling scheme. It is entirely independent from the food and farming industry and is a charity in its own right. Its aim is to raise the standards of welfare for all the animals that we rear for food. Farmers have to commit to adhere to a strict but achievable set of welfare standards when rearing their animals. But it's not just the farmers. The animal must be covered by the RSPCA welfare standards throughout their lives - whether at the hatchery, in the case of hens and chickens; in transport and at the abattoir. When all the standards are met the product - be it pork, lamb, beef, turkey, chicken, salmon, duck or eggs - can bear the
distinctive blue and white Freedom Food label. All Freedom Food members are subject to an annual assessment from highly-trained Freedom Food assessors, as well as spot checks from RSPCA Farm Livestock officers.
Philip Pugh has been busy rearing 12,000 hens at Longmeadow Farm near Much Wenlock to exacting Freedom Food welfare standards for more than four years. The Freedom Food scheme, monitored by the RSPCA, enables farmers to produce eggs which can be seen on the shelves of shops up and down the country stamped with the scheme's logo - reassuring consumers that the eggs have been produced on farms committed to providing higher welfare standards for their hens. Longmeadow Farm recently benefited from an investment from Sainsbury's supermarket in developing the hens' ranging acres with more tree planting under the Woodland Eggs brand. This will provide the birds with more natural shade and foraging as the environment develops. "A rich, natural environment is important to my birds," says Philip. "Welfare is top of my agenda and I firmly believe that taking care of them properly encourages better quality eggs - quality and welfare go hand in hand, experience shows you that. "It also seems that most people like to hear that Longmeadow is a part of the RSPCA's welfare scheme," he says. "I've never kept hens any other way, so high welfare standards and high quality are at the forefront of everything I do. Believe it or not, regular customers say that they simply prefer the taste of our eggs." And there's no doubt that the farm is peaceful and calm. There is no frantic scrabbling for space - typical in battery cages where space is restricted with no access to ranging outside - just the simple, stress-free environment of hens happy to each lay an egg a day. Philip currently maintains an average 94 per cent daily output, sending around 11,000 eggs daily into the Woodland Eggs network. "We all know that consumer awareness is changing," says Philip. "The paying customer is more concerned with how food is produced than ever before. Being a part of the RSPCA-monitored scheme is a benefit for us and it hasn't got in the way of producing good numbers of great eggs for the last four years. "I'm really proud of this thriving business and the quality of our hens and their eggs - and giving my birds the highest standards of welfare is a vital part of that success." With the future uncertain for farming in general, Philip sees the possibility of expanding his Freedom Food egg production in a more positive light. "One of the advantages of Freedom Food is that it enables me to commit to higher welfare standards without any significant impact on my time," confirms Philip. "To be truthful, I've always supported the idea of higher welfare equalling higher quality and now that consumers are voting for it at the checkout we should be supplying increasing numbers of higher quality free-range eggs all the time." And that's good news for farmers like Philip, good news for consumers and also good news for hens.