Report criticises food industry handling of farm animal welfare

Farm animal welfare is not being managed correctly by the food industry, a new and ground-breaking report has revealed.

According to the report from The Business Benchmark, entitled First Benchmark of Global Food Companies’ Approach to Farm Animal Welfare, animal welfare is not getting as much attention as other "corporate responsibility" issues do. The report is the first structured "benchmark" of the world’s leading food companies and researchers have said it provides an objective account of the state of farm animal welfare as a business issue.

Business Benchmark programme director Nicky Amos explained the main conclusion from the research was the fact that farm animal welfare did not receive as much attention as it should. Amos said: "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.

"Of the 68 companies, only 46% have published a formal farm animal welfare policy, only 41% describe how their board or senior management oversee their approach to farm animal welfare, and just 26% have published objectives and targets for farm animal welfare."

A variety of businesses and organisations have shown their support for the report’s findings, including chief executive of Sainsbury’s Justin King, who, in a foreword, said animal welfare standards had to be measured in order for them to be improved. As such, he added: "This Benchmark 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."

Business Benchmark expert Dr Rory Sullivan explained the case for businesses and their investors to become concerned with animal welfare was compelling. He said various factors influenced this, including regulation, consumer concern, pressure from the animal welfare non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as media concerns about poor corporate practices.

Despite the overall findings that farm animal welfare was not getting as much attention as thought appropriate, some companies were highlighted as having good practice. Companies such as Unilever, which has a Sustainable Agriculture Code; The Co-operative Food, which publishes details of its supply chain; and Sainsbury’s, which has a concept pig farm that is "pioneering new techniques" in sharing knowledge with new farmers, he added.

Mike Baker, chief executive of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, which supported the report said: "Investors have told us this tool will help them understand which food business companies have transparent policies in place to manage animal welfare. Our hope is that it will encourage all businesses to adopt good practices."

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