Animal welfare now serious business rather than a niche option, says global report

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

The reality for most farmed pigs. © iStock/agnormark
The reality for most farmed pigs. © iStock/agnormark

Related tags Food

Animal welfare has shot up the priority list for food companies but reporting remains “relatively underdeveloped”, according to a new global analysis that also shows how consumer and political pressure has pushed standards up beyond the niche, premium brands.

The fifth annual Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) report​ scored companies on their approach to managing farm animal welfare in four areas: management commitment and policy; governance and policy implementation; leadership and innovation; and performance reporting and impact. The companies were then separated into one of six tiers depending on how they performed.

Of the 99 brands assessed – across manufacturing, foodservice and retail sectors – 73% now have formal policies in place, up from just 46% in 2012. Around two thirds (65%) have set animal welfare-related objectives and targets. The avoidance of close confinement and restrictions in the routine use of antibiotics are two of the most popular policies.

Leaps and bounds

In all, 36 producers and manufacturers were reviewed, with 11 of them moving up at least one tier. Cargill and Mondelēz International leaped two rungs. There were also 18 non-movers and six new entries. Only Brazilian producer Marfrig tumbled down the tiers.

British companies Noble Foods and Cranswick led the manufacturing sector. Still, a third of the producers and manufacturers remain in the bottom two tiers. “Many companies have yet to establish robust systems and processes for managing, measuring and reporting on farm animal welfare,”​ the authors concluded.

How manufacturers and producers fared

Tier 1 (leaders​):​ Noble Foods; Cranswick

Tier 2 (integral to the business​):​ BRF; Cargill; Unilever

Tier 3 (established but work to be done​):​ Arla; Barilla; Danish Crown; Ferrero; Friesland Campina; Groupe Danone; Hormel Foods; JBS; Nestlé; Premier Foods; Tyson Foods; Vion Food Group

Tier 4 (making progress​):​ 2 Sisters Food Group; Dean Foods; Fonterra; General Mills; Marfrig; Mondelēz;​ WH Group

Tier 5 (on the agenda but limited evidence​):​ ABF; ConAgra; Gruppo Veronesi; Mars Inc; New Hope Liuhe; OSI Group; Terrena Group

Tier 6 (no evidence​):​ Charoen Pokphand; Groupe Lactalis; Henan Zhongpin; Kraft Heinz; Müller Group

Farm animal welfare isn’t even on the business agenda of many large global food companies, added BBFAW executive director Nicky Amos. However, the fact that 26 companies have moved up at least one tier in the past 12 months is “a clear indication that the food industry is finally starting to treat farm animal welfare as an important business issue”.

The trend since the first report is also undoubtedly upwards: the overall score increased year-on-year by approximately 5% from the first assessment in 2012 to 2013, and then by 2% from 2013 to 2014 and again by 3% between 2014 and 2015. Looking at the overall scores for 2016 on a like-for-like basis, the average score also increased by 5% between 2015 and 2016, the latest year.

Striking change

The report noted the “striking change in the manner in which companies talk about farm animal welfare”​ in recent months. “Increasingly, companies describe farm animal welfare in terms of the opportunities – financial and reputational – that can be delivered.”

Many companies have also recognised that accessing these opportunities is “not the preserve of niche ‘healthy’ or ‘organic’ producers, nor is it limited to premium brands and food companies appealing to more affluent consumers”,​ BBFAW explained. “Instead, these are opportunities that can be accessed at scale and can make a material difference to earnings across the value chain as well as future profitability.”

A Eurobarometer survey last yea​r​ showed that four in five European consumers wanted to see improvements made in relation to farm animal welfare. More than half looked for animal welfare logos when shopping.

In November, Denmark revealed its voluntary logo for animal welfare with Germany set to follow suit. However, campaigners argue that it is the minimum legal standards that need to be raised.

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