From amongst the many calls and emails received at the ACMF office from consumers, one of the most common queries is what is RSPCA approved chicken and in what ways is it ‘different’ from chicken grown outside of this approved system.
The actual standards that a farmer and processor need to meet in the RSPCA Approved system are in many respects the same as or similar to those that are applied to the rest of chicken production in Australia. However, there are some key differences. In my opinion, the three most significant things that differentiate RSPCA Approved chicken are:
- Density – the maximum stocking densities allowed under the RSPCA Approved Farming system are 15% lower than the maximum densities that someone producing chickens outside this system could potentially (but not necessarily) stock their farms to.
- Perches – under the RSPCA Approved Farming standards, farmers must provide birds with environmental enrichment in the form of both perching space and some form of manipulable material. In the photo shown here, taken at an RSPCA approved farm, these have been provided by way of straw bale.
- Independently audited by the RSPCA. While all chicken processors have auditing arrangements in place to comply with their own internal quality assurance programs and to meet requirements of their specific customers, for example McDonalds or KFC, all of which have animal welfare elements in them, the RSPCA Approved Farming program is welfare specific and independently (third party) audited by RSPCA staff. RSPCA Approved farms are audited (assessed for compliance with the standards) at least twice each year.
Readers should be aware that the RSPCA Approved Farming program is not the only welfare specific accreditation program with third party audit available to and adopted by some chicken meat processors. For example, the Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia (FREPA) program is currently the most widespread system adopted for production and accreditation of free range meat chickens in Australia.
However, it is the RSPCA Approved logo (http://static.ipaustralia.com.au/store3/14/37/1437790.1.high.jpg); and its Approved Farming program (http://www.rspca.org.au) that consumers are seeing and hearing more of in store and on the shelf and which is certainly what all the talk is about at the moment.
What does it look like inside an RSPCA Approved farm? Go to http://www.chicken.org.au/page.php?id=200&gallery=Media%20Tours to take a peek inside an RSPCA Approved chicken shed.
If you are interested to find about more about the different systems under which meat chickens are produced in Australia, see: http://www.chicken.org.au/page.php?id=6#Productionsystems
…or wait for a future Chook Chat blog, where I will explain what the terms ‘conventional’, ‘free range’ and ‘organic’ mean in the context of Australian chicken meat.