Brands committed to strengthening animal welfare management in supply chains

UK supermarkets Marks & Spencer (M&S) and Waitrose have been listed amongst the best performing businesses for the management and reporting of farm animal welfare, although others have been warned to adhere to best practice as tougher regulations are introduced.

The supermarkets were ranked alongside Swiss food group Coop Group, Cranswick, Migros and Nobel Foods in attaining Tier One scores for animal welfare management in the fifth Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) report, released on Monday (23 January).

The report ranks 99 companies on management, policies, innovation and reporting – all relating to animal welfare risks. According to the report, more than 70% of the companies have publicly available animal welfare policies, compared to less than half in 2012. 65% of the companies have published actual targets for animal welfare management, a 40% increase on 2012 levels.

While Waitrose and M&S “occupy leadership positions” in Tier One, global firms such as McDonalds, Unilever, Tesco and Cargill are placing animal welfare as “integral to business strategy” and were therefore placed in Tier Two of five.

The report notes that farm animal welfare is being recognised as a business priority due to fluctuating factors such as food scarcity, tighter regulatory requirements, food safety and quality, pressure from consumers and NGOs and growing investor concerns.

Companies that are actively pushing the agenda are doing so through their supply chains, by seeking to drive improvements in farming practices. However, 42 companies, including Dominoes Pizza, appeared in the bottom two tiers due to a lack of animal welfare principles in the business ethos. According to the report, investors look likely to drive change amongst the companies that are failing in this regard.

“The Benchmark shows that investors are key agents of change,” BBFAW’s advisor Rory Sullivan said. “They are sending a clear signal to companies that they expect food companies to effectively manage the systemic risks and opportunities posed by farm animal welfare, and it is clear that companies are responding to these expectations.”

Of the 99 companies, 18 of which were from the UK, 26 have climbed up the tiers compared to last year. However, the world’s third largest producer of beef Marfrig, has fallen by two tiers on this report. According to Sullivan, this can be attributed to the company’s decision to sell poultry meat producer Moy Park to JBS in 2015. Moy Park had “very high welfare standards” which contributed to Marfrig’s previous high ranking.

Animal Farm

Scrutiny over animal welfare amongst businesses looks set to increase thanks to a new-found focus within Parliament. Organisations from farming, fair trade, poverty, animal welfare, wildlife health and environmental sectors have collectively penned a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, calling on her to place food and farming practices at the heart of the Brexit strategy.

With Defra committed to spending £3bn under the Common Agricultural Policy to enhance England’s countryside – with an extra £100m set aside to combat contaminated land and restore peatland habitats –  there have been calls to ensure that both land and animal welfare remain at the forefront of political decisions.

Defra has already vowed to make to Britain a global leader in sustainable farming as part of a department re-shape to allow for increased agricultural investment and greater risk-response capabilities.

Matt Mace

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