Three Reasons Farm Animal Welfare is an Important CSR Tenet For the Food Industry

Gestation crates
Images of animal cruelty, including the intensive confinement of pigs in gestation crates, may damage brand reputation
By Kristie Middleton

When we think about corporate social responsibility, we might think of waste and emissions reductions, recycling programs, or maybe fair wages. In recent years though, animal welfare has become a prominent CSR issue for food companies—and for good reasons. So, why should food companies include farm animal welfare in their CSR plans?

  1. Consumers care about farm animal welfare. Animal welfare consistently ranks as a leading concern for consumers. Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry research firm, found that animal welfare is the third-most important social issue to American restaurant patrons, outranking the environment, buying organic and buying fair trade. A 2010 study by Context Marketing determined that animal welfare is a major consideration for shoppers, finding that “69 percent of consumers report they will pay more for food brands they see as ‘ethical’” and 91 percent include good animal welfare in their definition of ethical.
  2. Images of animal cruelty damage brand reputation. More than 80 percent of breeding pigs in the pork industry are confined in gestation crates: two foot wide cages that are barely larger than the animals’ own bodies, preventing them from even turning around. Confining animals in these cramped cages is antithetical to the way most Americans believe animals ought to be treated. In a 2008 food industry report, Citigroup warned of “…a number of potential headline risks that could tarnish the image of restaurant companies, including concerns over animal cruelty…”
  3. Current systems are unsustainable. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, have replaced the vast majority of traditional small farms in America. These facilities can contain tens of thousands of animals at any given moment, and warehousing vast numbers of animals like this wreaks environmental havoc. CAFOs are resource intensive and their waste pollutes nearby air and water, making life miserable for neighbors. Moving toward higher animal welfare products means moving to systems that house animals in less concentrated numbers and reduce pollution.

As these issues gain more prominence, a number of large companies are including animal welfare as part of their CSR commitments. Recently, the country’s largest grocery chain, Kroger, called on its suppliers to accelerate their movement away from gestation crates for pigs. McDonald’s also recently announced a timetable to phase out all pork produced with gestation crates. Wendy’s, Denny’s, Sonic, and Safeway have made similar commitments. And Burger King took its commitment one step further, pledging to also switch to exclusively cage-free eggs. Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, told the Columbus Dispatch that Wendy’s announcement is part of an ongoing movement, “not just in animal welfare but in corporate responsibility.” He continued, “Many major chains are re-evaluating the way animals are treated in the food-service supply chain.”

And as Chipotle has demonstrated, a corporate culture based on responsible stewardship of animals and the environment pays off. NPR’s The Salt reports that when Chipotle started selling Niman Ranch pork, which comes from pigs raised without gestation crates, sales improved. Chris Arnold, communications director of Chipotle, told The Salt, “We started selling twice as many carnitas as we had been before.”

Some companies have yet to make progress, presenting a threat to shareholders and their public image. Rebuking those laggards, Pork Magazine editorialized in March, “on the issue of gestation-sow stalls, at least, it’s increasingly apparent that you will lose the battle.” Meat industry trade journal, Meatingplace, editorialized in March, “Game over. For any pork producer still on the fence [about gestation crates], the McDonald’s announcement makes the move inevitable, whether or not they are a McD’s supplier.”

As Rory Sullivan, a researcher and ethical investment consultant, told Food Navigator, animal welfare is reaching a tipping point. “The end point for investors is that they will see animal welfare as a risk issue and then use their influence with companies to encourage them to manage the issue better.”

Kristie Middleton is the Manager of Corporate Outreach for Farm Animal Protection at The Humane Society of the United States. Follow her on Twitter.

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6 responses

  1. “My goal is the abolition of animal agriculture” JP Godwin HSUS.. HSUS wants the elimination not the betterment of farm animals…

    they are a vegan animal rights group with an end agenda of no no more domestic animals

    We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of
    livestock produced through selective breeding. . One generation and out.
    We have no problem with the extinction of domestic animals. They are
    creations of human selective breeding.” Wayne Pacelle, Prsident HSUS

    1. Well, good for HSUS for that. Anyone who thinks differently prioritizes their fickle food preferences over the intense suffering of animals. “I want this crappy hot dog, and so pigs must be tortured on my behalf.” Yum yum!

  2. Thanks for this post. We’re hearing about more companies including animal policies in their standards and it’s promising. A no brainer that factory farming is unsustainable and as the post states, not good for brand image. When consumers learn about it, they don’t want to support it.

  3. The recent string of QSR’s, major grocers, and mid-size restaurants going gestation-crate free is evidence enough that animal welfare is a major concern for consumers, and thus brand reputation. Just in the last few months McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Denny’s, Sonic, Kroger, Safeway, Cracker Barrel (am I missing any?) have ditched gestation crates for pigs.

    Additionally, many companies in the last few years have started to phase in the use of cage-free eggs, and voters in numerous states have passed laws to ban extreme confinement for farm animals.I think the fact that consumers are so aware is due to the media attention these issues have been getting, documentaries like Food, Inc., and people just generally wanting to learn more about where their food comes from. With images like the one in this article, you can’t blame ’em.

  4. While agribusiness would prefer for consumers not to care about animal welfare, nor ask questions where their food is coming from, it’s simply not the reality in which we live. Americans care about animal welfare and they expect the companies they financially support be good corporate citizens, specifically in protecting animals from cruelty and abuse.

    Each time consumers had a chance to vote to outlaw gestation crates, veal crates, and battery cages, they’ve done so. They’ve done so in Florida (purple state), Arizona (red state), and California (blue state). These people are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. They might not have agreed on who they’d like to represent them in Congress or in the White House, but they agreed that animals shouldn’t be confined in cages so small they can barely move.

    It simply makes business sense to listen to consumers and ensure that a company’s supply chain is free of gestation crates, veal crates, and battery cages.

    1. “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” — George Bernard Shaw, Nobel Prize 1925

      “I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.”
      — Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President

      “If a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth — beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals — would you concede them the rights over you that you assume over other animals?”
      — George Bernard Shaw, playwright, Nobel Prize winner 1925

      “In their behavior toward creatures, all men are Nazis. Human beings see oppression vividly when they’re the victims. Otherwise they victimize blindly and without a thought.”
      — Isaac Bashevis Singer, author, Nobel 1978

      “I must interpret the life about me as I interpret the life that is my own. My life is full of meaning to me. The life around me must be full of significance to itself. If I am to expect others to respect my life, then I must respect the other life I see, however strange it may be to mine. . . . We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also.”
      — Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Civilization and Ethics, Nobel 1952

      “The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.”
      — Leonardo da Vinci, artist and scientist

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