In recent years, ‘private standards’ in animal health and welfare have become increasingly common, and are often incorporated into quality assurance (QA) programmes. Here, we present an overview of the use of private animal health and welfare standards in QA programmes, and propose a generic framework to facilitate critical programme review. Private standards are being developed in direct response to consumer demand for QA, and offer an opportunity for product differentiation and a means to drive consumer choice. Nonetheless, a range of concerns have been raised, relating to the credibility of these standards, their potential as a discriminatory barrier to trade, the multiplicity of private standards that have been developed, the lack of consumer input and compliance costs. There is a need for greater scrutiny of private standards and of associated QA programmes. We propose a framework to clarify the primary programme goal(s) and measureable outputs relevant to animal health and welfare, the primary programme beneficiaries and to determine whether the programme is effective, efficient and transparent. This paper provides a theoretical overview, noting that this framework could be used as a tool directly for programme evaluation, or as a tool to assist with programme development and review.