Responsible Minimum Standards (RMS)
The Responsible Minimum Standards (RMS) are specific guidelines outlining minimum welfare standards regarding how farm animals should be raised, transported and slaughtered.
These standards cover six of the most commonly farmed animals:
Influencing global frameworks and content
The FARMS Initiative's Responsible Minimum Standards are based upon the principles of a number of global frameworks and reflect high-level input from numerous animal protection organizations and animal welfare certification organizations.
The International Finance Corporation's Good Practice Note on Improving Animal Welfare in Livestock Operations
The Five Freedoms outlined by the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH)
Global animal welfare certification organizations
Global animal protection organizations
Progressive implementation is the goal
Implementing every aspect of the RMS immediately is unlikely for most producers and companies dependent on the food production industry, which is why progressive implementation is the goal.
Financial institutions should use the RMS as a reference point and progressively shift investee/portfolio companies' policies to align with the RMS, and the FARMS Initiative can assist.
The starting point
Phase out cages and crates
Scientific research shows that these systems have severe, inherent disadvantages for animal health and welfare.
Battery cages (the small, wire enclosures used to confine tens-of-thousands of egg-laying hens in one building) prevent the expression of important behavioral patterns such as perching, nesting and foraging. The barren enclosures are so small the birds cannot freely stretch their wings. Similarly, gestation crates, used to confine female breeding pigs are so narrow the sows cannot turn around—for 114 days at a time, the entire length of their gestation period. Both of these systems prevent natural movement to such a degree that there are real physical effects on the animals including reduced muscle weight and bone strength, as well as significant psychological effects, ultimately increasing the animal welfare risk of confinement-based operations.
Additionally, investments and financial support for cages and crates does not align with consumer expectations, ESG-related mandates or global regulatory changes. An investor or business cannot meaningfully contribute to higher animal welfare while supporting confinement-based production.
Corporate cage- and crate-free commitments
Thousands of companies all over the world have committed to producing, processing and sourcing cage- and/or crate-free products. Visit Cage Free World and Crate Free World to see a list of commitments.
How financial institutions should use the RMS
Financial institutions should include the Responsible Minimum Standards (RMS) in their applicable policies. This could include:
Responsible sourcing policies
Other applicable policies
Excluding investments or other financial support for confinement-based production is an excellent starting point.
Aside from direct financial support for producers, companies in many different industries indirectly support animal cruelty, including confinement-based production, and as such, policy adjustments should extend to industries that source animal products.
It's very important that these policies go beyond a mere mention of animal welfare, or a simple reference to The Five Freedoms.
Procedural changes should accompany policy changes.
Applicable procedures that should incorporate animal welfare could include:
Valuation and modeling
Screening (positive and negative)
Proxy voting and shareholder resolutions
Active engagement and support
The FARMS Initiative is here to support these efforts. If you work for a financial institution that would like to learn more, please email us.
Incorporating the Responsible Minimum Standards into policy and procedures limits risk for financial institutions and the companies they finance.
Why the Five Freedoms aren't enough
The Five Freedoms are a well-recognized framework, but one that is not self-executing or sufficiently precise, and therefore ineffective without specific guidelines.
Many producers/food companies reference the Five Freedoms on their websites or sustainability reports but have weak or non-specific policies or guidance regarding housing, slaughter, transport, etc. For example, slatted floor systems and crates may still be in used even though one of the freedoms is “freedom from discomfort by providing a comfortable resting area.”
Companies may lack both understanding and the ability to translate references like the Five Freedoms into clear and specific guidelines for identifying and addressing animal welfare concerns.
The Five Freedoms
Freedom from hunger and thirst
Freedom from discomfort
Freedom from pain, injury and disease
Freedom to express normal behavior
Freedom from fear and distress
Do these hens appear to have the freedom to express their natural behaviors?
Companies that use or source animal-based products using cages like these claim adherence to the Five Freedoms.
Not all are created equal
Companies or animal producers may mislead investors and consumers by flaunting certification schemes that supposedly validate their excellence in animal welfare. Unfortunately, the majority of certification schemes are promulgated by the industry itself and fail to address the key animal welfare issues. Some of these programs do not require every standard to be met, allowing instead farms to be certified by meeting only a certain proportion of the requirements (e.g., 70%) and permitting bad practices to continue. In other cases, producers may point to certifications that do not actually include any animal welfare standards, but are rather focused on, for example, product quality or food safety (which are important, but irrelevant to animal welfare).
On the surface, some of these schemes may appear meaningful and important, but in reality, it’s more like the fox guarding the henhouse. Some certification schemes are even run by industry associations.
Recommended certification schemes
While there are many inadequate schemes, there are also some very comprehensive, meaningful programs. The FARMS Initiative recommends the farm animal welfare certification programs listed in this section. In addition, we can review others on a case-by-case basis to ensure their requirements are aligned with global animal welfare concerns. The certification programs mentioned are all science-based, prohibit intensive confinement systems (cages and crates) and go further by including dozens of additional animal welfare requirements. Every standard must be met, and they are administered by non-profit organizations aimed at protecting animals rather than promoting industry interests.
If you have questions about a specific certification program, please feel free to contact us and ask if it is acceptable.
For recommendations and information on aquaculture certification programs, please visit this page from the Aquatic Life Institute.
Scientific creators of the Responsible Minimum Standards (RMS)
The following scientists and veterinarians contributed to the Responsible Minimum Standards (RMS).
Dr. Kate Blaszak
Former Head of Research and Animal Welfare
World Animal Protection
Dr. Sarah Ison
Global Farm Animal Adviser
World Animal Protection
Dr. Elena Nalon
Senior Veterinary Adviser, Farm Animals
and member organisations of Eurogroup for Animals
Dr. Sara Shields
Director, Farm Animal Welfare Science
Humane Society International