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An ethical Christmas feast

Around ten million turkeys will be consumed in the UK over the Christmas period. For most families in the UK, a turkey will be the centrepiece of their Christmas dinner. Smoked salmon is also a traditional favourite at this time of year.

Research has shown that animal welfare and food quality have become important issues to consumers.  However, a lack of clear information displayed on food labels is often a significant barrier to consumer choice and ethical purchasing.

Compassion in World Farming and OneKind have published details from a joint guide to help Christmas shoppers navigate the often confusing number of farm assurance schemes relating to turkey and farmed salmon products.

A simple guide

The guide is a simple way for consumers to see which labels set the highest welfare standards, with regards to the treatment of animals.

It is part of a detailed report developed by both organisations. The analysis covers the welfare standards of farm assured products across a wide range of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products.  The full report will be published in the New Year. Meanwhile, both organisations have published the guide to turkey and salmon products prior to the festive period..

The guide ranks the various food assurance schemes from Bronze (acceptable) to Gold (highest standard of welfare) based on a number of animal welfare criteria, ranging from husbandry to genetics and breeding.

For turkeys, the systems performing best in the research was the Organic Soil Association standards, the Scottish Organic Producers Association, the RSPCA Freedom Food Indoor and Free Range labels.

These systems offer significant welfare benefits compared to standard industry practice.

For turkeys

Prohibition of beak trimming, access to the outdoors and use of slower growing breeds (which suffer from fewer welfare problems than fast growing breeds)  in the case of organic and RSPCA Freedom Food free-range turkeys.

The label that scored lowest was the Red Tractor Quality British Turkey.  The low score means that the standard offers little more than compliance with minimum legislative requirements, and means that turkeys are likely to be reared in barren, overcrowded environments with no access to the outdoors.

For farmed salmon

The systems performing best were the Organic Soil Association standards and the RSPCA  Freedom Food labels. These schemes offer significant welfare benefits compared to standard industry practice, including lower stocking densities, prohibition of mutilations and use of humane slaughter methods.

Consumers are advised to avoid farmed salmon that carries no farm assurance scheme label as these salmon are unlikely to have been reared to higher welfare standards.

Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming, said:

"It's great that consumers now place much greater emphasis on the way that farm animals are treated and how food is produced. Many people are naturally concerned about value for money in these difficult economic times; research shows that they also see animal welfare and food quality as important issues."

"Christmas is a time that is traditionally centred around eating and drinking, and therefore these concerns are amplified.  However, the lack of clear information on food labels means shoppers often cannot feel assured they are making the ethical purchasing choice they intend.  This report will be hugely beneficial in empowering consumers in making ethical choices."

Fiona Ogg, Chief Executive of OneKind, said:

"The majority of animals in this country are reared in accordance with the standards of a farm assurance scheme, all of which claim to ensure high standards of animal welfare, but which vary a great deal in their requirements of how animals are kept and cared for.

"OneKind encourages people who eat meat to choose higher welfare systems and to consider eating less meat. By harnessing the tremendous power they wield via their shopping baskets, consumers can not only benefit their own health, but help improve the welfare of farmed animals as well."

Choosing higher welfare need not cost the earth

A survey of prices in major UK supermarkets in December 2010 reveals that consumers can upgrade to a free range turkey for around £1 per kilo, or even less for those who are willing to shop around - for a fresh medium turkey, the cheapest free-range bird is only 72p more per kilo than the cheapest standard bird; that's only 36p extra per serving (based on a serving size of 0.5kg whole bird per person, e.g. 8 servings per 4kg bird).

Upgrading to a slower-growing bronze free-range turkey will cost around £2 - £3 extra per kilo (£1 - £1.50 per serving), whilst an organic turkey costs around £5 extra per kilo (£2.50 per serving). Most retailers offer free-range turkeys and in some supermarkets these are RSPCA Freedom Food certified.  Orders can also be placed direct online with many organic free range farms around the country.

Three out of the 'big four' (i.e. largest) supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons) offer Scottish smoked salmon certified by the RSPCA Freedom Food scheme and in all cases this is cheaper than their standard 'no label' Scottish smoked salmon. On average, consumers can save around £4.50 per kilo by buying the Freedom Food version. Three out of the big four offer organically farmed Scottish smoked salmon.

Upgrading to organic costs around £5 extra per kilo on average compared with standard Scottish smoked salmon, although in one supermarket the price for organic was identical to the price for the standard Scottish version.  By choosing RSPCA Freedom Food or organic salmon over standard salmon, consumers are buying fish that has been reared in systems with significantly higher welfare standards. Anyone having difficulty sourcing the required standards can find many organic smoked salmon suppliers online.

To read more information on turkey and salmon in advance of the full report, please click the following link:

Assurance Schemes for turkey and salmon ( 246.31KB)