The food labels you need to know

Wanting to eat ethically is one thing, trying to find ethically-sourced food is a whole new kettle of fish.

Consumers are bombarded with a mind-boggling amount of different labels and phrases, which can often been misleading.

For example, “farm fresh”, “farm assured” and “local” doesn’t necessarily mean the eggs, meat or dairy you’re buying is organic or free range.


The Soil Association

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The crème de la crème

If you’re serious about animal welfare, then this is the label to look out for.

The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by farmers, scientists, doctors and nutritionists to promote the connection between the health of the soil, food, animals, people and the environment.

The label:

  • Prohibits animals being kept in confined spaces, ensuring free-range access with shade and shelter, and specifies the animal must have access to fields when weather permits.
  • Ensures the animal is fed a diet which is as natural as possible and free from GMOs.
  • Guarantees animals are not given hormones which make them grow more quickly or makes them more productive.
  • Ensures the animal is not produced from cloned animals.
  • Ensures and specifies stunning and slaughter practices.

RSPCA Assured

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The standard set by the RSPCA has a ban on zero-grazing, and live animals are only allowed to be transported for a maximum of six hours.

Depending on the species, the welfare standards include “more space, natural lighting, comfy bedding, environmental enrichment (for example, objects for birds to peck at), and shade and shelter”.

However the Assured standard stamp, formerly known as “Freedom Food”, came under criticism in the 2012 report, which described the RSPCA’s scheme as “factory farming”.

The Lion Mark

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Don’t be fooled by the red lion..

The mark means eggs are produced to minimum legal requirements; it does not mean the hens are free range. The standard permits the use of “enriched cages” for hens.

These cages are a slight improvement on battery cages, however they’re still bad news, as hens can be confined to the small area for the duration of their lives, and their ability to behave naturally is confined. As one Telegraph article noted, “beak trimming is routine”.

It’s encouraging to note Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, the Co-op and M&S no longer sell eggs from caged birds.

It also guarantees the eggs were laid in Britain.

The Red Tractor

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Trust the tractor… or should we?

The Red Tractor scheme was established in 2000, and is run by the Assured Food Standards board, a “team of experts and academics covering the breadth of the food industry”.

Sounds impressive, right? In 2012 however, a report was released which slammed the scheme, with the Independent calling the stamp “barely worth the label it’s printed on”.

The logo is supposed to guarantee basic British standards, but it lays down the lowest animal welfare standards of any other quality mark in the country. The scheme allows mutilations of pigs, tethering of sheep and cattle, zero-grazing of dairy cows, and genetically modified or cloned animals and their offspring. It also provides less space and comfort than other marks of quality, as well as tail-docking and teeth-grinding of pigs, long journeys to slaughter, and cramming of chickens into sheds.

So what does it guarantee? That food is British and legal. Yep, that’s pretty much it.

The report concluded:

“The standards offer few welfare benefits compared with standard industry practice and generally only ensure compliance with minimum legislative standards – the interpretation of which is considered inadequate in some cases.”


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‘Corn-fed is just another fancy name for factory-reared’

“Corn-fed chicken” often appears on gastropub menus; a brag presumably intended to prove the restaurant’s ethical, animal-friendly credentials.

But it doesn’t actually really mean anything. Chickens may be corn-fed, but that doesn’t make the meat organic, nor does it mean the animals have been raised to a high standard. As Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, notes in his book ‘Farmageddon’:

“The truth is just about all chickens are corn-fed – the vast majority of them on factory farms. So that fancy ‘corn-fed’ chicken is most likely just factory-reared, by another name.”


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