Walmart, the largest food retailer in the U.S., recently announced a new animal welfare policy. It’s a policy animal rights groups are calling groundbreaking as it engages the company’s entire supply chain and covers a wide range of issues from antibiotic use to housing systems.
The policy applies to all of the company’s U.S. operations, including its subsidiary, Sam’s Club. Back in October, Walmart announced its commitment to making its food supply chain more sustainable.
The new policy includes the responsible use of antimicrobials, including antibiotics. It asks suppliers to adopt and implement the Judicious Use Principles of Antimicrobial Use from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which states that when veterinarians decide to use antimicrobials they “should strive to optimize therapeutic efficacy and minimize resistance to antimicrobials to protect public and animal health and well-being.” In other words, antimicrobials should be limited to animals that are sick or at risk.
The policy asks suppliers to be proactive in eliminating animal abuse, including:
- Reporting cases of animal abuses and taking corrective action.
- Finding and implementing solutions to address concerns about housing systems, painful procedures, and euthanasia or slaughter.
- Providing progress reports to Walmart and publicly reporting on their corporate animal welfare position annually.
“Walmart is committed to selling products that sustain people and the environment,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and senior vice president of Walmart sustainability, in a statement. “We have listened to our customers, and are asking our suppliers to engage in improved reporting standards and transparency measures regarding the treatment of farm animals.”
Walmart’s new animal welfare policy embraces the Five Freedoms of animal welfare by the Farm Animal Welfare Council:
- Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by providing ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
- Freedom from Discomfort – by providing appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
- Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by ensuring prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
- Freedom to Express Normal Behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
- Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
Mercy For Animals led intense campaigning against Walmart
The animal welfare group, Mercy For Animals (MFA), led what it describes as an “intense campaign” against Walmart. Part of that campaign included footage of “extreme” animal abuse at Walmart pork suppliers across the U.S. taken by MFA. The campaign also included over 150 protests at Walmart stores, full-page newspaper ads, mobile billboards circling the company’s headquarters in Arkansas, 640,000 petition signatures on Change.org and celebrity endorsements.
Walmart’s new policy proves that the retail giant is capable of appropriately responding to campaigns led against it. The wide reach of the company signals that the “era of confining farm animals in cages will come to an end,” as Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the U.S., wrote in a blog post. That’s good news for the millions of farm animals across America.
Image credit: Flickr/Mike Mozart