Some major news came out this week from our friends Down Under. Two of Australia’s largest grocery chains have pledged to phase out factory-raised eggs and pork. The two chains are Cole’s the nation’s largest, which will ban these products starting January 1st, and Woolworths, who expects to phase them out by the middle of next year. The two chains combine to cover 80 percent of the nation’s food market share.
As an immediate result, 34,000 mother pigs and 350,000 chickens will be freed from their cages.
What is really exciting abut this announcement, besides that obvious fact that it takes Australia one step closer to a humane, non-violent, ethics-based civilized society, it also shows the power of consumer sentiment to effect change. The announcement came about in no small part because of a campaign by Animals Australia calling for an end to factory farming, calling “it the biggest cause of cruelty to animals in the country.” The campaign featured this video called, When Pigs Fly.
Back home, while some business folks complain that their investments in social responsibility might not be paying off quickly enough, they might be missing the way that these things can slowly build to a tipping point.
Here in the U.S., there are laws against cruelty to animals, but they don’t apply to animals raised for food. Still, there are efforts to expose the kinds of cruel practices that occur in factory farms, despite the fact that an increasing number of states are passing laws making the disclosure of what actually happens inside these death camps illegal.
A number of food producers have come forward and announced decisions to voluntarily stop these practices. Among them are food retailers: Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, Wendy’s, and McDonalds, who have all pledged to begin phasing out either gestation crate pork or caged hen eggs or both in the near future (notice a little peer pressure here?). Meanwhile Domino’s has steadfastly refused to make the change. Food distributors Sysco and Aramark have also vowed to eliminate gestation crates from their suppliers. On the producer side, Oscar Mayer and Wienerschnitzel have also gotten on the bandwagon.
But I would think that grocery chains would have even more leverage among a wider range of suppliers, since they are likely to carry multiple brands on their shelves. The issue of supply chain leverage particularly in the area of GHG emissions, has become a hot topic in itself, and the inclusion of Scope 3 emissions, those coming from outside the walls of the company in question, serves as fitting analogy to the cruelty that might be taking place upstream of these outlets.
Australia has been generated an impressive sustainability track record, to which they recently added with the announcement that 90 percent of their seafood catch comes from sustainable sources. They also have demonstrated their willingness to make tough choices.
But the grand prize in this category might have to go to the EU, as least on the cage-free chicken issue, since they have passed a law, requiring all eggs to be produced by cage-free chickens or those kept in cages meeting enhanced standards.
[Image credit: Farm Sanctuary: Flickr Creative Commons]
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.