ANALYSIS - Major meat and food processing companies around the world are starting to take a lead in animal welfare issues.
Recently two leading international food processors, Nestlé and Unilever, have laid out welfare codes of practice for their supply chain.
For Nestlé, the guidelines were drawn up based on the five freedoms:
- Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition
- Freedom from fear and distress
- Freedom from physical and thermal discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease
- Freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour
The move that Unilever made was to end the culling of day old chicks by its egg supply chain.
These commitments to improving animal welfare are an indicator that big multinational companies are starting to appreciate the connection between animal welfare and health and at the same time welfare and food quality.
They are also an indication that these companies are starting to listen to what some of their customers have been saying for a considerable time.
Both companies in drawing up their welfare guidelines have drawn on the expertise from several animal welfare groups – once considered to be the bane of the meat processor.
Now leading companies are working more and more with the animal welfare groups.
One such group, World Animal Protection worked with other welfare organisations to help Nestlé construct its welfare programme for its supply chain.
The organisation, formerly the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), has built an international reputation and is recognised by and has been engaging with the meat processing industry for some time.
Together with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the FAO it is part of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock and tit has a memorandum of understanding with the OIE on animal welfare.
Lesley Lambert, the chief policy advisor for humane and sustainable agriculture at World Animal Protection said that their work with companies is designed to get them to have a commitment to looking at their supply chains and to see where they can have an impact.
She said that while companies have a strong commercial drive, they are also seeing that to raise the profile of animal welfare has also become an issue for them to address.
Martin Cooke, the international head of corporate engagement at World Animal Protection said: “We want to develop long term relationships with companies.
“We work with them in a step by step way.”
He said that by working with companies and helping to change attitudes in big companies it is hoped that other companies will start to take notice.
“We are developing strong frameworks to look at animal welfare in different geographies and different farming situations,” Mr Cooke said.
He said that World Animal Protection helps companies recognise where they are with their animal welfare practices and see how they can make progress to get better.
“Companies have a suite of issues on responsible sourcing, and animal welfare is just one,” he said.
He said that the challenge with animal welfare is to come up with a set of priorities for different situations, but he stressed that they cannot be rigid rules.
Mr Cooke said that World Animal Protection helps to offer an understanding of the issues that the companies are concerned about and as an organisation it has a global reach.
He said that when working with companies it is not a question of being judgemental, but companies have to be prepared to make “a mammoth effort to improve things”.
“It is journey for us as well as the companies,” Mr Cooke said.
He said that while they work with companies to help improve animal welfare, it is fully understood that the companies might have completely different motives for taking action.
“We are interested in the outcome,” said Mr Cooke.
“We have to find a model that companies drive for themselves. If they do it for themselves, they have ownership of it.
“We want to make animal welfare part of their business philosophy.
“It is evolution not revolution and helping them to evolve their practices, passing the test at each stage.
“You have to show how it adds value to the customers”
And Ms Lambert added: “It’s about catalysing change – enabling a company to realise for itself the benefits of animal welfare.”