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Food industry failing to manage animal welfare, warns report

By Nathan Gray+

28-Feb-2013
Last updated on 28-Feb-2013 at 17:39 GMT

The first ever structured benchmark of the world’s leading food companies suggests that farm animal welfare is not being properly managed and reported by the food industry.

The ‘ground-breaking’ report, which benchmarks 68 global food companies, reveals that many are not effectively managing business risks or opportunities associated with farm animal welfare – finding that a majority have yet to report on how they are managing farm animal welfare.

Published by the UK-based Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, the report has been developed based on the assessment of farm animal welfare information published in annual reports, corporate websites, press releases and CSR reports by food companies in the retail, production and service sectors.

“The central conclusion from our research is that farm animal welfare is receiving nothing like the attention that other corporate responsibility issues are receiving,” commented Nicky Amos, programme director for the Business Benchmark.

“While over 70% of the companies covered by our assessment acknowledge farm animal welfare as a business issue, many have yet to publish a formal policy and fewer still have set out the specific commitments that underpin this area.”

Amos revealed that of the 68 companies assessed, only 46% have published a formal animal welfare policy, while 41% describe how their board or senior management oversee their approach to farm animal welfare and only 26% have published objectives and targets with regard to animal welfare.

Report details

While the overall findings of the report suggest that farm animal welfare as a business issue is in its infancy, the Benchmark did identify some examples of good practice examples in companies, including:

  • Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Code – which outlines a commitment to the ‘Five Freedoms’ (a universal framework for analysing animal welfare), to continuous improvement in farm animal welfare performance and to ensuring all suppliers are aware of and compliant with relevant legislation.
  • The Co-operative Food (UK) – which publishes details of its supply chain auditing to basic and higher animal welfare standards.
  • Sainsbury’s – which through its Concept Pig Farm is pioneering new techniques and sharing knowledge with farmers on higher welfare standards.
  • Noble Foods – which has developed initiatives aimed at promoting higher welfare eggs to consumers

Measuring to improve

Dr Rory Sullivan, expert advisor to the Business Benchmark, added that the business case for companies, and their investors, to be concerned about farm animal welfare is ‘compelling.’

“Investors have told us that this tool will help them understand which food business companies have transparent policies in place to manage animal welfare,” said Mike Baker, chief executive of the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

“Our hope is that it will encourage all businesses to adopt good practices,” said Baker.

Meanwhile, Justin King CBE, chief executive of UK supermarket chain J. Sainsbury Plc. also expressed support for the report – commenting that industry must be measuring animal welfare standards before it has a hope of improving them.

King said the report provides a ‘unique reflection’ on the relative performance of food companies on this issue. 

“Critically, unlike other animal welfare reports, it seeks to engage investors whose buy-in is essential to truly embed and take forward the concept within businesses,” he said.

“As the public and customers become increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how it was produced, we can expect more companies to seek to improve their management and reporting of farm animal welfare.”