Farm Animal Welfare Moves Up Business Agenda

By Miroslav Djuric, DVM, CAB International

 

The second report of the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare has been published with the expertise and support of animal welfare organisations, Compassion in World Farming (CWF) and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

Farm animal welfare

70 companies from across Europe and the USA were assessed, representing food retailers and wholesalers, restaurants and food producers and manufacturers. Companies were assigned into six tiers according to their approach to the management of farm animal welfare and across three categories: Management Commitment and Policy, Governance and Policy Implementation and Leadership and Innovation.

The Report showed that 56% of companies have published formal farm animal welfare policies in 2013 (compared with 46% in 2012) and that 41% have published objectives and targets for farm animal welfare compared with 26% in 2012.

 


Although 71% of food companies acknowledge farm animal welfare as a business issue, almost half have yet to formalise their approach to managing the issue, which indicates that farm animal welfare is lagging behind other issues on the corporate responsibility agenda, according to the report. One of the main conclusions of the 2013 Benchmark is that farm animal welfare continues to be a systemic risk that many companies in the food industry are either not effectively managing or not properly reporting.

The Report identified seven companies that are in a clear leadership position in reporting farm animal welfare policies:: The Co-op Group (Switzerland), Marks & Spencers, The Co-operative Food (UK), Sainsbury's, Marfrig, Noble Foods and Unilever. The Co-op Group (Switzerland) and Marks & Spencers, both of whom leapt from Tier 3 in the 2012 company ranking to the two top ranking companies in Tier 1 in 2013.

The companies that have shown the biggest improvement on last year include Sainsbury’s who have moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2, Marfrig which jumped from Tier 4 to Tier 2, and companies such as VION, Arla, Waitrose and FrieslandCampina who have all moved up from Tier 4 to Tier 3 in the company rankings.

Despite the general positive trend, some food companies have not performed as well in the 2013 Benchmark, and these largely come from the restaurant, bar and food service sectors. Their scores can, in some cases, be explained by takeovers and mergers and resultant changes in reporting or revamping of company websites. However, it seems that, within this sector, performance is affected by a company’s proximity to the consumer.

Those that have a strong high street presence such as Greggs, JD Wetherspoons, McDonald’s or Starbucks all performed notably better than business to business companies such as Elior, Gategroup Holding or SSP Group Limited who are relatively unknown to the public. Only Compass bucked this trend.

The Benchmark expects that company approaches to farm animal welfare will continue to improve as they face increased scrutiny of their farm animal welfare performance from investors, consumers, governments and civil society. Discussions with the leading companies in the 2013 Benchmark indicate that they see farm animal welfare as both a business risk and increasingly, as a source of competitive advantage.

For companies that have yet to make significant progress, the 2013 Benchmark report provides a practical roadmap for action, listing five key elements of a basic farm animal welfare management system as:

1. An overarching farm animal welfare policy that includes a clear statement of the reasons why farm animal welfare is important to the business, a commitment to compliance with relevant legislation and to other relevant standards, a commitment to continuous farm animal welfare performance improvement, clear accountabilities for the implementation of the policy, and a commitment to public reporting on performance.

2. Formal policies on key farm animal welfare-related concerns e.g. close confinement, long distance transport, and routine mutilations.

3. Clearly defined responsibilities – at the senior management (oversight) level and at the operational level – for the implementation of the company’s farm animal welfare policy or policies.

4. Objectives and targets for farm animal welfare performance.

5. Reporting on farm animal welfare processes and performance.

It is expected that the Benchmark will eventually allow delineation between those companies that are using farm animal welfare as a source of competitive advantage, those that are effectively managing risks to the business, and those that are not taking effective action on this issue. Compassion in World Farming and WSPA also expect that, as understanding of the risks and opportunities presented by farm animal welfare increases, investors will see the Benchmark as enabling them to draw increasingly robust conclusions about the quality of companies’ management (both of farm animal welfare specifically and of social and environmental issues more generally).

The business Benchmark will assess food companies again in August 2014 and will publish its findings by the end of next year.

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