Animal welfare initiative to improve the lives of millions of dairy cows across the UK

01 June 2012

A new animal welfare tool is being launched to help improve the lives of millions of dairy cows across the UK through practical, reliable and scientifically robust methods of direct observation. [1]

This standardised system of direct observation has been developed as part of the AssureWel project, led by the RSPCA, the Soil Association and the University of Bristol. It is a quick and simple way to assess the welfare of dairy cows which can be used by farm assurance schemes, farmers, vets and other animal welfare professionals.

For the past year this new system for assessing animal welfare has been carried out on Soil Association and RSPCA Freedom Food approved laying hen farms, which make up 97 per cent of the non-caged laying hen industry. [2]

Inspectors from RSPCA’s Freedom Food and the Soil Association will now undergo training in the AssureWel welfare measures for dairy cows and by July 2012 all their dairy inspections will include these new welfare assessments. The results will be discussed with producers and, if needed, advice will be given on how to improve welfare even further.

In a major landmark for dairy welfare, AssureWel has been working with Red Tractor, which assures 95 per cent of the milk produced in Great Britain (this figure includes Freedom Food and Soil Association certified farms), and recognising the importance of this project, subject to final consultation the scheme are working towards the inclusion of core AssureWel measures into all Red Tractor dairy assessments. [3]

The dairy cow assessment includes looking at:

  • Mobility
  • Body condition
  • Cleanliness

Anna Fraser, Scientific Officer within the Farm Animals Department at the RSPCA, said: “We’ve had great feedback from Freedom Food farmers so far. The AssureWel assessment is a quick, simple way of measuring animal well-being. We know producers on our scheme care passionately about animal welfare and will go the extra mile to make their animals lives even better.”

Dr. Alison Bond, Animal Welfare Project Officer at the Soil Association, said: "It is clear that industry harmonisation on animal welfare assessment is needed and we believe AssureWel provides the vehicle to help do that. It is an objective way to discuss the well-being of farm animals and illustrate good farming practice whilst helping to tackle any challenges.”

Dr. David Main, animal health and husbandry expert at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences, said: “We aim to embed AssureWel’s standardised approach across all the major farm animal species. Working with Red Tractor instantly means we are working with the majority of dairy farmers in the UK which could potentially have a massive impact on dairy cow welfare.”

Mike Madders, Staffordshire dairy farmer and Chairman of the Red Tractor Dairy Scheme  said: "We still have lots to do but we have made excellent progress in our aim to introduce welfare outcome assessment into Red Tractor dairy thanks to our work with AssureWel. This project has managed to turn animal welfare science into a worthwhile package of practical measures.”


For further information please contact:
Clio Turton, Soil Association: / 0117 914 2448
Catherine Peerless, RSPCA: / 0300 123 0005
Rebecca Lenik, Freedom Food: / 01403 801 283
Philippa Walker, University of Bristol: / 0117 928 7777
Deborah Cawood, Red Tractor, / 020 7630 3328

Notes to editors:

[1] About AssureWel
AssureWel is a five-year (2010-2015) project led by the RSPCA, the Soil Association and the University of Bristol, funded by the Tubney Charitable Trust. The aim of the project is to improve the welfare of laying hens, dairy cattle, pigs, broilers, beef cattle and sheep though a practical system for assessing their well-being. AssureWel’s ‘welfare outcome assessments’ are scientifically validated measures of welfare achieved by looking directly at the animals, rather than their environment or management.

[2] Planned timeline for RSPCA and Soil Association to introduce the new inspection standards:
2011   laying hens
2012   dairy cattle
2012 - 2013 pigs
2014 - 2015  broilers, beef cattle and sheep

[3] Red Tractor, run by not-for-profit organisation Red Tractor Assurance, is recognised as the UK’s leading quality food assurance mark guaranteeing food safety, quality and traceability. To find out more visit

AssureWel Partners:

About the RSPCA and RSPCA Freedom Food
The RSPCA was founded in the early 19th century to improve farm animal welfare at markets, during transport and slaughter and that work continues today. Freedom Food is the RSPCA's farm assurance and food labelling scheme. It is the only UK farm assurance scheme to focus solely on improving the welfare of farm animals reared for food. To find out more visit

About the Soil Association
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. Today the Soil Association is the UK's leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. To find out more visit

About the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences
Research at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences is focused on the areas of Animal Welfare & Behaviour, Comparative & Clinical Research, and Infection & Immunity, complemented by quantitative expertise in Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Mathematical Ecology. Research ranges from fundamental to applied and is relevant to over-arching issues such as Food Security and Animal Health. To find out more visit

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