You may have not heard of Great Lakes Cheese, but this Ohio-based company has facilities stretching from Utah to New York and is a fixture in the upper Midwest. The family-owned $2 billion company, which employs 1,800 people, sells to retailers and food service companies and has been in business for almost 60 years. It is also the latest food company to enact an animal welfare program policy in light of accusations of animal cruelty, following the likes of Nestle and Smithfield.
Great Lakes Cheese does not operate any dairies, so it has an extensive supply chain. And therein lies how the company got in trouble with animal rights activists last fall. Mercy for Animals was able to sneak someone into one of the company’s suppliers (now a former supplier) in Wisconsin. Four months later, Great Lakes Co. now has an animal welfare policy that is in line with one of the United States’ major dairy trade associations.
First, the company claims it will take a no-tolerance policy toward animal cruelty. Tail docking is to be completely phased out by 2018; any such procedure done out of medical necessity must be done with pain medication. And when it comes to pain, any disbudding and dehorning must be completed before the animals reach eight weeks of age and must also be done with pain controls. For those of us not in the dairy industry and who think those jugs of milk in the supermarket shelves just “happen,” one would expect these are common sense rules that should be followed without a doubt. But in an industry running on thin margins in a highly regulated environment, cutting corners is a way of life — too often at the expense of cows. To that end, Great Lakes Cheese will suspend any purchases of milk from an offending farm until the problem is corrected and verified by a third-party auditor.
The other animal welfare policies that Great Lakes Cheese has announced are fairly broad, so rest assured that animal rights activists will be vigilant as they pressure the company to adhere to the industry guidelines covering the care of dairy cows. Clean, dry and safe environments for cows, preventive care, and proper nutrition are among the pledges the company has made as it cleans up the supply chain.
So far animal rights organizations are responding to Great Lakes Cheese’s new policies with optimism yet caution. “While this is one of the most comprehensive animal welfare policies ever adopted by a major U.S. dairy company,” said Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy for Animals, “we encourage Great Lakes Cheese to make this policy more meaningful by engaging third-party auditors to ensure that these standards are enforced.” As is the case with any new policy, transparency and accountability will be the keys to gauging whether this company is serious about the elimination of business practices that are not only unnecessary, but cruel.
Image credit: Great Lakes Cheese
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.