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Leon Kaye headshot

Report: Food Brands Are Failing on Animal Welfare

A new report suggests that the world’s largest food companies’ deeds related to animal welfare not come close to matching their words.
By Leon Kaye
animal welfare

By some accounts, the past decade has witnessed a growth in awareness of animal welfare and companies responding by striving to make their supply chains more humane. Announcements such as ending the use of gestation crates, using more or only cage-free eggs and telling suppliers to stop injecting livestock with antibiotics are among the shifts we have seen in recent years.

But according to a new report that World Animal Protection and Compassion in World Farming recently issued, the world’s largest food companies’ deeds on the animal welfare front have not matched their words.

Overall, progress on animal welfare is occurring; but frankly, that bar was fairly low to begin with.

The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) Report ranks companies in six tiers: Think of Tier One akin to receiving an “A” grade, the fifth tier as an F, and the final tier as the student who never showed up to class and scored an incomplete. Only four companies, all of them based in the United Kingdom, made it into the BBFAW’s top tier: Cranswick, Marks & Spencer, Noble Foods and Waitrose.

The rest of the list is a who’s who of leading food brands, and their scores don’t put them in the brightest of lights, even if a few managed to jump up a BBFAW tier or so.

We can’t know your animal welfare score if you’re not reporting

For one thing, companies generally are under-reporting their animal welfare performance. “Whilst 79 percent of companies have published formal improvement objectives for farm animal welfare (75 percent in 2019), there is a gap in companies’ disclosure on how these commitments are leading to improved welfare performance on the ground,” say the report’s authors.

In addition, while the performance of animal welfare at retailers, wholesalers and the food service sector has remained relatively static over the past few years, the overall scores of food producers and manufactures has actually improved a few notches – a trend seen for the first time within this annual report.

Progress, but little purpose and far from any perfection

Overall, progress on some of the cruelest practices within the global food industry has improved but is still fitful. For example, the use of cage-free eggs has become mainstream, with a majority of companies indicating that they reveal the percentage of hens within their supply chains that aren’t kept in close confinement. Nevertheless, only about one-quarter of all the companies surveyed in this report have disclosed that a majority their hens are kept free of close confinement.

Meanwhile, companies overall appear skittish when it comes to discussing the darker side of animal welfare across their supply chains. Take beak trimming: Only one in eight of the 150 food companies studied for this report disclosed the percentage of egg-laying hens subjected to such treatment. And frankly, if a company is shy about disclosing, they most likely aren’t performing on a trajectory acceptable to many of their stakeholders.

Before the pandemic, investors were increasingly urging companies to eliminate animal cruelty from their supply chains, generally from a reputational standpoint. The global pandemic largely sidetracked such conversations, but the role many U.S. meat companies had in spreading the virus – and their lack of accountability – offered a reminder that such investor activism won’t be dormant for long. In addition, consumers have increasingly been concerned about animal cruelty; as the world reopens; there’s no such reason such sentiment has gone away.

Image credit: Laura Anderson/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye