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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: 8 Companies Moving Forward on Animal Welfare

By Mary Mazzoni

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

In response to growing consumer pressure, food and retail companies around the world are shedding the animal husbandry practices of decades past and embracing welfare guidelines that respect the animals in their supply chains.

While plenty of laggards remain, the worlds largest animal welfare NGOs call out these eight companies as leading the way in their sectors when it comes to animal welfare. Let's hope their peers soon follow suit.

1. Marks and Spencer

U.K. retail giant Marks and Spencer is no slouch when it comes to sustainability. In 2014, the company claimed that over 60 percent of the products on its shelves were sustainable, a number it seeks to increase.

The company is also a leader in human rights, so its position as head of the pack on animal welfare should come as no surprise. Under its Plan A sustainability agenda, the company emphasizes food products that are fair trade, organic, free-range and cruelty-free. And its internal animal welfare standard insists animals be respected all stages of their lives – on the farm, during transportation and at the place of slaughter.

Beyond food, the company stopped selling products tested on animals back in 2006, and it has never sold fur. Marks and Spencer held the highest 'leadership' tier in the 2016 Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, produced by World Animal Protection, and continues to lead the retail industry in this area.

2. McDonald's

Some may be surprised to see McDonald's on this list. In the 1990s, the fast-food chain was often targeted by groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for alleged mistreatment of animals in its supply chain.

But the company is turning things around. World Animal Protection says animal welfare is now "integral" to its business strategy.

McDonald's switched to 100 percent sustainable fish in 2013. A year later, the company said it would start sourcing sustainable beef in 2016 -- a move it's making, albeit slowly.

In 2015 the company pledged to transition its egg supply chain to cage-free. The process will take 10 years, but the Humane Society of the U.S. called the decision a "watershed moment for animal welfare." It's also looking to clean up its infamous McNuggets and ditch deforestation in its supply chain.

With restaurants in more than 100 countries and millions of animals in its supply chain, most movements by McDonald's will take time. But the company is well-positioned to make a serious impact, even through incremental changes, as it seeks to lead its industry.

3. Unilever

Unilever leads the way in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry when it comes to animal welfare. World Animal Protection also says animal welfare is now "integral" to its business strategy.

Under its Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever aims to purchase all of its animal-derived ingredients from sustainable sources by 2020. And it's already making significant progress.

It sourced nearly 60 percent of its dairy from sustainable sources in 2015, and 45 percent of its eggs were cage-free. In January another Unilever brand, Hellmann's, also pledge to phase out battery cages for egg-laying hens. (Like several Unilever brands, Hellmann's is already cage-free in Europe.)

4. Tesco

Another U.K. retailer, grocery chain Tesco also tops the animal welfare charts. It earned high marks on the World Animal Protection list and uses the Farm Animal Welfare Council's Five Freedoms to craft its animal welfare policy.

Tesco's policy protects animals from breeding and rearing through to transport and slaughter. It also does not sell personal care or cleaning products tested on animals, and only sells items like feathers or leather if they are a byproduct of food production. The company's focus on making the most of waste and byproducts is clear across its supply chain, and it is the only U.K. retailer to publish annual data about its food waste.

5. Walmart

Walmart is best known as an 'everything' big-box store, but few know it's also the largest food retailer in the U.S. After years of pressure from consumers and NGOs, in 2015 Walmart adopted a welfare policy animal protection groups called "groundbreaking."

The policy was especially noteworthy, the groups said, because 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," 3p's Gina-Marie Cheeseman reported.

"Walmart is committed to selling products that sustain people and the environment,” Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and senior vice president of Walmart sustainability, said in a statement announcing the new policy. “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.”

The company now receives respectable marks on the World Animal Protection scorecard, and earned recognition from the likes of Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society of the U.S.

6. Wendy's

Wendy's rolled out its first animal welfare guidelines in the mid-1990s and began routinely auditing its suppliers. It established an Animal Welfare Council in 2001. Made up of executives from across the company, the council is tasked with regularly reviewing and strengthening Wendy's animal welfare standards.

Its standards now include housing, transportation and slaughter requirements for cows, pigs and chickens across its supply chain. America's third-largest hamburger chain also pledged to switch to cage-free eggs by 2020, and it's making progress on phasing out antibiotics.

NGOs are mounting pressure on food companies to phase out the unnecessary use of antibiotics, arguing overuse of antibiotics in farm animals can expedite antibiotic resistance in humans. Only two years ago, Wendy's was considered a laggard in this space -- earning a failing grade in a 2015 scorecard from the Natural Resources Defense Council and other NGOs. After testing antibiotic-free chicken in some markets and taking steps to improve its antibiotic policy, the company bumped that up to a C grade on the 2016 scorecard.

7. Nestle

Nestle has come under increasing fire in North America for its water-sourcing practices. But the global food and beverage giant is making significant strides toward greater animal welfare.

Nestle became the first major food company to form an international partnership with an animal welfare organization when it linked up with World Animal Protection International in 2014. The resulting welfare policy aimed to phase out veal crates for calves, gestation crates for pigs and battery cages for egg-laying hens.

The company extended its policy across its supplier base. It pledged to work with suppliers found in violation of its code, and cut ties with suppliers who failed to comply. World Animal Protection recognized Nestle for its established welfare policy, while noting it still has work to do.

8. Chipotle

Chipotle was a fast favorite among the sustainability set.

In 2013, it became the first fast-food company to disclose all the ingredients in its menu items, including genetically-modified (GMO) foods. Two years later, it drew cheers from the animal welfare community when it cut ties with a major pork supplier for violating the company's standards -- even if it meant a shortage of pork at hundreds of restaurants.

After a highly public outbreak of E. coli, salmonella and norovirus in 2016, the company's position faltered a bit. The company continued to be outspoken about its vision for healthy, natural and humane food. And earlier this year, it rolled out a new animal welfare policy in partnership with Compassion in World Farming USA and the Humane Society of the U.S.

World Animal Protection notes that Chipotle is still working to implement its policies, but as a fairly new company compared to its competitors in the space, it's making good progress so far.

Image credit: Pexels

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni