HEAD TO HEAD WITH Deborah Hodson, RSPCA Assured

Tell us a little about yourself and how you came about to work for the RSPCA Assured.

I was working for myself in an unrelated field. My circumstances changed and I looked for a new challenge.

I have always loved animals, having had pets all through my life including ducks, chickens and dogs. The opportunity came up for me to test the waters at RSPCA Assured where I work with great people, passionate about their aim and achievements.

I’ve learnt a great deal about farm animals and their welfare and I get to talk to some really interesting people in retail, wholesale and catering service and explain how we can all make a difference to farm animal welfare. Its contagious and I haven’t looked back. I’m just lucky I guess.

If you had to pitch the RSPCA Assured accreditation to an alien, how would you sum it up?

RSPCA Assured checks that the animals we eat have been well looked after; because animals are capable of feelings and have the right to be treated with compassion and respect.

How can operators leverage the accreditation to the consumer through the hospitality and foodservice sectors?

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the welfare of farm animals and ensuring that what they eat comes from animals that have had a good life. The traceability and provenance of their food is also important to them. People are willing to support the ethics promoted by brands that commit to supporting higher standards of animal welfare and are even willing to pay a little more for products that carry this assurance. And when it comes to animal welfare, no one is more well recognised and trusted than the RSPCA.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your role?

That’s easy – spreading the word about what we do and why we do it. I love being part of a team that is helping to lead the way and make a difference in the lives of farm animals, for the better, both in the future and right now.

What are the greatest barriers to achieving the RSPCA Assured objectives in both retail and foodservice?

The RSPCA welfare standards are deliberately set at the stretching end of achievable, as we want to be leaders and a catalyst for positive change. This means it can cost a little bit more; but not always as much as you might think, as the standards cover both indoor and outdoor systems - as long as they can ensure a good standard of welfare. We don’t for example allow cages. Consumers increasingly accept this and are willing to pay a little bit more and back brands that support good welfare. Carcass utilisation can also be a challenge. People are used to having certain cuts of meat. For example, people who eat chicken usually only want breasts, thighs and legs which means the bird isn’t fully utilised and there can be wastage.

In your opinion what is the single biggest issue those in the food standards sector are battling with today?

The single biggest challenge we face is chicken. Chickens account for 90% of all farmed animals in the UK – that’s without including the millions of egg laying hens – and face some important welfare challenges; not least fast growth rates, which can cause a number of significant health issues.

We’ll see chicken welfare become a major focus of animal advocacy groups across Europe over the next few years. This could present significant threats or opportunities for those in the retail and food service sector as consumers shift toward even higher expectations around the ethical treatment of animals.

For interest take a look at www.betterchicken.org.uk and for more information about joining us check out www.berspcaassured.org.uk.(industry) and www.rspcaassured.org.uk (consumer)

Being so close to the issues and practices of animal husbandry, what would your perfect meal comprise of and why?

It would be something really simple but tasty – like an RSPCA Assured ham and cheese omelette, in the knowledge the pork and eggs had come from animals that have lived a good life farmed to strict RSPCA welfare standards.

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