RSPCA Assured was established by the RSPCA in 1994 as a higher welfare farm assurance and food-labelling scheme, making it the only one of its kind in the UK solely dedicated to animal welfare. Formerly known as Freedom Food, the scheme rebranded in 2015 – bringing with it welfare standards for all farm animals and a wealth of opportunity for producers and farmers alike.
More people than ever before are now looking for the assurance that their food has been sourced ethically, and the scheme’s CEO Clive Brazier is confident that RSPCA Assured does that better than others. ‘Our standards are higher than other UK food labels in many key welfare areas. Animals on RSPCA Assured farms must be given plenty of space, a good diet and comfortable bedding.
‘All RSPCA Assured members are subject to annual assessments and unannounced spot checks to ensure standards are being met. So when you see the RSPCA Assured label on eggs, fish, meat and milk, you can be sure that the farms have met our standards.’
Today there are about 56 million animals being farmed under the scheme, with 2,000 different RSPCA Assured-labelled products available in nearly all UK supermarkets. What’s more, out of the scheme’s more than 3,600 membering partners across the UK, 416 are based in Yorkshire.
One of them is Home Farm Beningbrough – a National Trust farm nestled between Harrogate and York which is, this year, celebrating 10 years of being RSPCA Assured.
Having been tenants at Beningrough Hall since 1959, the Jackson family have had farming in their blood for decades, and husband and wife duo Alistair and Lucy Jackson are very much carrying on the tradition. Formerly a struggling dairy farm, the couple have transformed Home Farm Beningbrough into an award-winning business, building a reputation as one of the area’s best beef producers in the process.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the Jacksons who, in 2006, saw their farm go out of business following a slump in the dairy industry. Refusing to give up, Lucy and Alistair took the decision to work with what they had, rearing the few remaining Aberdeen Angus cattle they had left on the farm.
Within two years their herd had grown considerably, and they began selling the beef locally – earning something of a cult following in the surrounding North Yorkshire villages and towns. More widespread recognition followed, so they transformed their old cart shed into a farm shop and café in 2008, selling their beef by the bucket load.
Managed by Alistair, the farm is now home to a huge herd of Aberdeen Angus suckler cows, which provide beef for the onsite farm shop, that Lucy runs. With animal welfare standards at the core of production, the cattle are allowed to roam freely in the parkland meadows and riverside pastures, are fed on a natural grass-based diet, and are only slaughtered between 18–23 months.
Being RSPCA Assured members, these are vital requirements that the Jacksons must meet in order to pass regular inspections from the scheme’s auditors. But while these regulations are no different to the high standards the farm has always had, Lucy believes that being part of the scheme ensures that they’re always working to the highest level. 'Our cattle have always been looked after well, but the scheme keeps us on our toes as the inspections are really thorough. We welcome that with open arms because it ensures we’re doing the simple things right.’
Home Farm Beningbrough has won a whole host of national accolades for their Aberdeen Angus Beef, including the Overall Food Award at the National Trust Fine Farm Produce Awards earlier this year. Prior to being on sale in the shop, the beef is hung on the bone for a minimum of three weeks, which gives it the distinctive flavour and tenderness that is often hard to come by – warranting its reputation as the region’s best.
Looking to the future, Lucy is hopeful that their reputation as top-quality beef producers will only improve, as the farm looks to go fully organic. ‘In two years time, there’ll be no fertilisers or pesticides used on the land, meaning we’ll be a completely organic farm. We’re doing that because we want to bring the farm back to its natural parkland, whilst giving people peace of mind that our cows are cared for in natural settings.’
‘We love being able to say that our cows are looked after to the highest standard,’ says Lucy. ‘That, in a nutshell, is why we’re so proud to be part of the scheme, its a lovely thing to be able to do.’
Home Farm Beningbrough