Progressive companies must lead the way in farm animal welfare

Investors have a responsibility to promote high standards of farm animal welfare.

That was the key message reflected at the book launch of The Business of Farm Animal Welfare, attended by Meat Trades Journal on 6 September in London.

The book was published to address the need for international companies to collaborate in promoting high standards of animal welfare.

“In short, the practice of reporting and managing farm animal welfare in the farm industry globally remains relatively under-developed,” explained Amos at the launch of the book, which was edited by Nicky Amos and Rory Sullivan, with chapter contributions from industry experts.

“The latest study by the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare in 2016, which assesses 99 leading global food companies on their animal welfare approach, found that 42% of those companies were providing little or no information on how they were managing business risks and opportunities associated with farm animal welfare.”

Despite this, Amos noted that after working in the field for approaching six years, she has seen a more positive picture emerging.

“For example, 87% of companies in the 2016 benchmark acknowledged farm animal welfare as a business issue. That compares to 71% of companies in 2012. 73% of companies have formal farm animal welfare policies compared to 46% in 2012, and 65% of companies have published animal welfare targets and objectives, compared to 26% in 2012.”

Many companies have capitalised on increasing awareness of animal welfare, drawing attention to the topic in their product marketing and brand communications. However, with no global standard, Amos questioned how further progress could be made on farm animal welfare in the next 10 years.

She highlighted that in the next decade progressive legislation on farm animal welfare was expected. That would be coupled with growing consumer interest and increased customer and investor pressure for companies to improve practices, performance and transparency.

“The most significant impact perhaps will come from the setting of precedents through progressive companies showing what can be achieved in practice,” she explained.

“These companies can do much to alter the economies of farm animal welfare, encouraging suppliers to take a more holistic and longer-term approach to investment decisions, and effectively future-proofing their capital investments against regulatory market demands. By engaging with suppliers, companies can signal the strategic direction of travel on farm animal welfare and through providing appropriate incentives, for example preferential and extended contracts that guarantee supply volumes.

“They can enable suppliers to better meet company needs for higher welfare products and through close monitoring and reporting companies can identify potential legal, financial and physical risks presented with their production systems, thereby enabling them to identify and benefit from upside opportunities and to minimise downside risks.

“10 years is a relatively short timeframe to fundamentally shift the industry, especially starting from such a low base. But the progress we have seen in companies in just five years offers some conviction that is possible to capitalise on change on farm animal welfare at scale. The industry has an opportunity now to reframe the business case for action on farm animal welfare to locate the business case for higher welfare standards in the context of being successful and sustainable in the medium and longer term.”

The Business of Farm Animal Welfare is available now.

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