Knowing how the meat you eat has been raised, fed and ultimately slaughtered can be tricky going by the label alone. Here, we look in more detail how livestock is cared for at Adeys Farm – our main supplier of fresh pork, beef and lamb – and what organic certification means in terms of animal welfare.
Positive animal welfare
Adeys Farm is certified by the Soil Association, one of several organic certification boards. Like all organic certification schemes in the UK, Soil Association meet EU organic standards as a minimum, but many of their standards are still more stringent, including several relating to animal welfare. Soil Association livestock management standards call for farmers to proactively satisfy ‘animals’ behavioural needs, and not merely avoid cruelty’ – an approach to livestock care called ‘positive animal welfare’. This ethos is embodied at Adeys, where their cattle, pigs and sheep lead as natural a life as possible in an environment that allows them to express natural behaviours.
A pig’s life
There are many controversial practices used in the conventional rearing of pigs that Soil Association standards forbid and will never be seen at Adeys Farm. These include the use of farrowing crates (tightly confined cages that prevent free movement of birthing sows), tail docking, teeth cutting and nose ringing. Happily, castration is banned throughout the UK.
Starting off on the right foot
Caroline and Tim – tenant farmers of Adeys – believe that young animals that remain with their mothers for longer are happier, hardier and have a better start in life. Piglets at the farm suckle their mothers until 8 weeks – up to four times longer than the standard period on conventional farms. Calves are left to wean naturally at 8 to 9 months, much longer than the 12-week minimum laid out in Soil Association standards, while lambs will stay with mum for 5 months.
Soil Association Standards state that grazing livestock must have access to pasture unless the health of the animal, weather conditions or national livestock interventions prevent it, and farmers are required to record grazing periods. Caroline and Tim spent a lot of time choosing the best breeds for an organic outdoor system, ensuring that animals are at home in the natural environment of the farm. When they are brought indoors, or choose to take shelter there, the environment is designed with each breed’s comfort and behavioural needs in mind.
You are what what-you-eat eats
What livestock eats impacts not only the health of the animals themselves, but the quality of the end product. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows organic meat contains around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic meat, due to the animals’ natural grass-based diet containing large quantities of clover. Organic standards require 60% of grazing animals’ diets to come from fresh grass, hay or silage and that the majority is sourced from the farmer’s own land. Cattle and sheep at Adeys graze on permanent pasture and clover leys, supplemented with hay, silage and farm-grown grain when the weather turns. Pigs enjoy the same diet, supplemented with the farm’s own cereal mix all year round.
Antibiotics are critical in the fight against infection and disease, but their overuse in human and animal medicine is undermining their effectiveness by creating bacteria that can resist antibiotics altogether. It’s a serious problem: it’s thought that in the UK alone 10,000 people die each year from antibiotic resistant illness, and this figure is predicted to rocket globally as we approach what experts are calling the ‘post-antibiotic era’. Farm animals account for 40% of antibiotic use in the UK, and in conventional farming antibiotics can legally still be used preventatively on a large scale. Not only do organic standards rule out mass preventative use of antibiotics, but the high hygiene, housing and welfare standards contribute to keeping the animals healthy without the need for medicine.
Caroline has noticed this to be the case at Adeys: “All our animals lead a natural life as possible with little stress, they have plenty of space and in turn this means they keep healthy with generally little need for medication.”
A fitting end
The way that an animal ends its life is as important as the way it was reared, and abattoirs must adhere to strict standards in order to gain organic certification. But in a farming economy that increasingly favours large-scale food production, small-scale, local abattoirs are being put at risk of closure. Such places make it possible for farms like Adeys to take their animals to slaughter locally and affordably, with minimal impact on animal welfare and the environment. For now, Adeys is in a fortunate situation, located only 6 miles from a small, family-run abattoir. As well as being organic certified, Caroline and Tim like the calm, quiet environment maintained at the abattoir, and value the exceptionally short transport time, reducing the stress on their animals and the carbon footprint of their meat. At Better Food, it’s our priority to make sure that this truly local, shining example of livestock farming has a route to market and that our customers can continue to enjoy exceptional meat, confident of its origin.