NFU strives for better sector engagement on new RSPCA Assured standards

A photo of free range turkeys.

RSPCA Assured has extended its current pause on the introduction of new standards for laying hens.

RSPCA Assured have announced that they will pause the roll out of their new laying hen standards for nine months.

The news comes after pressure from the NFU and other poultry sector organisations who have been asking for poultry producers to be at the heart of standard development and assurances that any new standards are based on sound scientific evidence.

What’s in this latest announcement

  • New laying hen standards will not be implemented until the 1 February 2025*, meaning that until then RSPCA Assured laying hen scheme members can continue using the current version of the standards published in 2017
  • A commitment from RSPCA Assured to enact a robust engagement plan, with intentions to consult with NFU members via a series of meetings
  • The implementation of a new standards project team
  • A commitment to holding UK-based trials for the new requirement of natural daylight in laying hen housing

*The standards do not require natural daylight to be implemented until 1 January 2031.

Read more at: RSPCA Assured | Amends to RSPCA welfare standards for laying hens

Getting the best outcome for producers

The NFU, together with other sector stakeholders, have been engaging with RSPCA Assured to look at the scheme’s plans since they announced their new standards for laying hens in November 2023.

Our ask has always been for a pause on any new standards until proper consultation has taken place, which includes the need for relevant science and evidence to demonstrate a benefit to bird welfare and where appropriate UK based commercial scale trials.

“There are still questions to be answered regarding resources such as funding and how RSPCA Assured intend to act upon the feedback from the poultry sector to inform meaningful changes where required to their standards.”

NFU Poultry Board chair James Mottershead

We have asked for further clarity on this latest announcement from RSPCA Assured as to how they intend to act on what they hear during the nine-month engagement period, and we believe this information is crucial to ensure that genuine and meaningful outcomes are achieved.

A welcome pause

NFU Poultry Board chair James Mottershead said: “We welcome news that RSPCA Assured has announced a review of its new laying hen standards in response to our concerns. In particular, we recognise that the extended pause on implementation of these standards to nine months will allow for proper engagement and much-needed consultation with the poultry sector, especially egg producers - a point we have always said is absolutely vital to ensure that the standards are practical and workable and deliver a true benefit for welfare outcome measures.

Further clarity needed

“We acknowledge that a number of other positive moves have been made such as a commitment to carry out UK on-farm trials and the introduction of a dedicated project team. However, there are still questions to be answered regarding resources such as funding and how RSPCA Assured intend to act upon the feedback from the poultry sector to inform meaningful changes where required to their standards.

“The NFU will continue to engage further with RSPCA Assured to ensure the right outcomes for UK egg producers, ensuring that science and evidence underpins any decision in order to deliver an actual improvement in bird welfare which must be at the heart of any new standards.”

RSPCA announce new welfare standards for laying hens

In November 2023, members of the RSPCA Assured scheme were informed of a new set of standards with a range of new requirements for egg producers including the provision of natural daylight for birds, and the addition of verandas on poultry sheds.

Despite a number of meetings that initially took place between the RSPCA, RSPCA Assured and the NFU and its egg producer members, as well as amendments to the standards, the NFU remained concerned that the new standards lacked sound scientific backing and that no clear engagement plan was in place to continue improving bird welfare on farm.

At the time, NFU Poultry Board chair James Mottershead said any proposed changes to standards “must be made in collaboration with producers to ensure that they are practical and workable and, critically, that they are backed by relevant and robust scientific evidence to deliver an actual improvement in bird welfare”.

“The NFU has been working with the RSPCA and RSPCA Assured since they announced these new standards in November and we welcome their intention to build back trust and engagement with the egg sector. This must now be followed up with a clear engagement plan, including a genuine two-way discussion with producers,” he added.

New standards amended following NFU feedback

Following the meeting which took place in January 2024 with the poultry industry and senior representatives from the RSPCA and RSPCA Assured, the new standards were revised to remove an implementation date for verandas for free range producers.

The RSPCA and RSPCA Assured announced that they would jointly engage with the poultry sector to conduct an in-depth review of installing verandas on free-range systems before any future requirement for verandas is considered appropriate. The veranda requirement remains for all barn producers with a deadline of implementation set for 1 January 2030.

On the provision of natural daylight, the original timeline has been extended giving RSPCA Assured laying hen members seven years to implement the new standards in their entirety, which they state gives time needed to “allow increased engagement with industry and members”.

Read: RSPCA Assured | Amends to RSPCA Welfare Standards for Laying Hens

Way forward must be discussed with producers

While acknowledging the meetings that have taken place since the announcement of the new standards and the amendments to the requirement of verandas on free range farms, the NFU has strongly urged the RSPCA and RSPCA Assured to pause the introduction of any new standards until commercial-scale on-farm trials have taken place with a representative sample of farms in different locations across the country.

The NFU believes in a core set of principles for farm assurance when developing new standards. Central to this is that all standards should be developed in collaboration with the wider industry, with producers at the heart of this development phase.

A lack of consultation with the poultry sector could lead to impractical standards being imposed upon farm businesses and it is crucial that RSPCA Assured brings the poultry sector together, including producers, to discuss a way forward, because new standards are no use if producers can’t afford to deliver them.

The NFU has remained focused on ensuring that any new standards are properly consulted on before introduction and must have a demonstrable benefit to bird welfare which is supported by relevant science and evidence.

Positive steps in response to NFU ask for pause in standards

On 15 March 2024, RSPCA Assured released a statement outlining a pause in the implementation of new laying hen standards.

The RSPCA Assured statement reads as follows: “After careful consideration of the concerns raised by members and the wider industry about implementing the new laying hen standards, we have decided to pause the implementation date for three months.

“The three-month pause means members can continue to use the current 2017 version of the RSPCA laying hen welfare standards until 1 August 2024.”

In response to this latest announcement NFU Poultry Board vice chair Phill Crawley said: “We acknowledge that RSPCA Assured has listened to the NFU’s call to pause the introduction of any new laying hen standards. However, it is currently uncertain how they will use this three month period to conduct proper and much needed consultation with producers – which we have been clear is absolutely vital.

“It is particularly concerning that RPSCA Assured has stated that the standards will not be undergoing any further amendments.

“If RSPCA Assured is committed to standards that are embedded in science and evidence and deliver demonstratable benefits to hen welfare, we need urgent clarity on how it will collect and use feedback from the poultry sector to inform its plans.

“The NFU is ready to engage further to ensure the right outcomes for egg producers, and ultimately bird welfare.”

The NFU will be meeting with other industry stakeholders and RSPCA Assured at the end of March to discuss next steps and we will endeavour to keep members informed as dialogue over this issue continues.

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This page was first published on 28 November 2023. It was updated on 26 April 2024.

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