ANALYSIS - Global food processing giant Unilever has joined the growing list of major companies to put forward proposals to improve animal welfare in the food supply chain.
The world’s third largest consumer goods producer has launched a major drive to eliminate the mass culling of day old male chicks by its egg suppliers.
Unilever, which buys more than 350 million eggs each year in the US alone for brands including Best Foods and Hellmann's, Ben & Jerry's and Slim-Fast, is the first major egg user to take a firm stance against the practice.
The male chicks are culled because they are considered worthless to the egg laying industry.
Its announcement is the latest in a series of industry-leading animal welfare policies that recently included the announcement by Nestlé of a new code of animal welfare practices for its supply chain.
The new drive by Unilever has won the company accolades from farmed animal advocates around the world.
In its new welfare policy, Unilever has pledged to work with egg industry leaders and the animal welfare community, and devote R&D resources to developing and implementing alternatives to the current industry practice.
Unilever says: “We are also working toward improvements in the current standard practices of poultry breeding companies that supply egg-laying hens to the egg farming industry.
“We are aware of the concerns raised about the global egg-industry standards by which breeders of egg-laying hens eliminate male chicks, following methods that are included in American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines and European Union directives.
“While these are standard practices of suppliers to the broad egg-farming industry and all types of egg products, and although Unilever uses only a relatively small percentage of eggs produced in the market, we take these concerns seriously.
“In our corporate position statement on Farm Animal Welfare we have included our commitment to engage with the egg production industry, the animal welfare community and R&D companies to develop alternative options for the current practices.
“We are committed to providing financial support to research and market introduction of in-ovo gender identification (sexing) of eggs, a new technology that has the potential to eliminate the hatching and culling of male chicks in the poultry-breeding industry.
“We are arranging meetings with animal-welfare experts, egg industry organisations, suppliers, and other stakeholders to develop a multi-stakeholder dialogue and tangible steps to address this important issue and explore alternative options.
“While our approach is to work in support of technologies that would eliminate the culling of male chicks in the industry, we are also exploring ways to further meet consumer needs for products with different nutrition profiles and preferences for plant-based protein sources through the use of egg-replacement ingredients in some product categories.”
“Like the poultry industry as a whole, the egg industry has a terrible track record when it comes to animal welfare, and grinding millions of animals while still fully conscious is just one example,” said Ben Goldsmith, executive director of Farm Forward.
“We applaud Unilever’s announcement as well as the leadership it continues to show in listening to consumer calls for humane treatment of animals.”
N.G. Jayasimha, managing director of the Humane Society International-India said: “We applaud Unilever’s leadership in animal welfare. By working to end the mass grinding of male chicks and exploring plant-based ingredients to replace eggs, they are helping to drive major advancements in the egg industry.”
The announcement from Unilever follows a 12-week consumer education campaign from Farm Forward and dialogue between Unilever and animal protection organisations including Compassion in World Farming, The Humane League, and The Humane Society of the United States.
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