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Animal Welfare Climbing up Business Agenda

10 December 2013

GLOBAL - The second report of the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare has applauded Coop Group (Switzerland), Marks & Spencer, Arla, Marfrig, Royal FrieslandCampina, Sainsbury’s, VION and Waitrose for the notable improvements they have made in their farm animal welfare related management and reporting approach over the past year.

The Benchmark report has been produced with the expertise and support of leading animal welfare organisations, Compassion in World Farming (Compassion) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

The Benchmark assessed 70 leading companies from across Europe and the USA, representing food retailers and wholesalers, restaurants and bars (including food service providers) and food producers and manufacturers. It places them in one of six tiers according to their approach to managing farm animal welfare across three pillars: Management Commitment and Policy, Governance and Policy Implementation and Leadership and Innovation.

The Report shows that over half (56 per cent) of the companies reviewed in 2013 had published formal farm animal welfare policies (compared to 46 per cent in 2012) and 41 per cent (compared with just 26 per cent in 2012) had published objectives and targets for farm animal welfare.

The Report identified a group of seven companies that have carved out a clear leadership position in reporting farm animal welfare policies:

  • The Coop Group (Switzerland)
  • Marks & Spencer
  • The Co-operative Food (UK)
  • J Sainsbury
  • Marfrig
  • Noble Foods
  • Unilever

Programme Director, Nicky Amos, observed: "While 71 per cent of food companies acknowledge farm animal welfare as a business issue, almost half have yet to formalise their approach to managing the issue. This indicates that farm animal welfare is lagging behind other issues on the corporate responsibility agenda."

Rory Sullivan, expert advisor to the Business Benchmark commented: "A key conclusion to be drawn from 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. For example, the fact that over half of the companies covered by the Benchmark provide little or no information on their approach suggests that farm animal welfare remains a relatively immature business issue."

Two companies that have demonstrated leadership in this area are the Coop Group (Switzerland) and Marks & Spencer, both of whom leapt from Tier 3 in the 2012 company ranking to be the two top ranking companies in Tier 1 in 2013.

"Coop has been working to promote humane animal husbandry for over 30 years. It is important to us to meet both our own exacting requirements and consumers' rising expectations in terms of animal welfare. The excellent result in the Benchmark is both confirmation of the course we have taken and an incentive for us to continue pursuing it with conviction and also to maintain Coop's leading position with articles produced under particularly humane animal husbandry conditions."
Philipp Wyss, Head of Marketing/Purchasing Business Unit, Coop Group (Switzerland)

"At M&S the Benchmark has become a key tool in driving improvements in our farm animal welfare reporting approach. For instance, the M&S farm animal welfare policy and animal welfare charter on our website were revised last year to address the specific comments raised in the first BBFAW report about M&S. We intend to use the annual Benchmark as a means of providing further clarity on our animal welfare requirements and activities for the benefit of our consumers and investors," said Mark Atherton-Ranson, Agriculture Sourcing and Animal Welfare Manager, Marks & Spencer plc.

However, it is the companies that have shown the biggest improvement on last year that the Benchmark most celebrates; companies like Sainsbury’s who have moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2, Marfrig which jumped from Tier 4 to Tier 2 in a year, or companies such as VION, Arla, Waitrose and FrieslandCampina who have all moved up from Tier 4 to Tier 3 in the company rankings.

Commenting on the success of the Report, Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, said: "The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare has played a catalytic role in putting farm animal welfare on the business agenda. It has pushed companies to acknowledge farm animal welfare as a business issue and, critically, it has forced them to take action."

Mike Baker, CEO, World Society for the Protection of Animals, added: "Animal welfare should play an integral part in basic food standards; I think we are seeing more demand from both consumers and regulators for this. The Benchmark’s effectiveness is demonstrated by the significant changes we have seen in company performance in the last year alone, and we hope that will continue year on year."

Despite the general positive trend, there are some food companies that have not performed as well in the Benchmark, and these largely come from the restaurant, bar and food service sector. 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, from consumers, from governments and from civil society. Discussions with the leading companies in the 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 the five key elements of a basic farm animal welfare management system as:

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • Objectives and targets for farm animal welfare performance.

  • Reporting on farm animal welfare processes and performance.

Over time, as the Benchmark is repeated, it will more clearly delineate 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 and WSPA also expect that, as understanding of the risks and opportunities presented by farm animal welfare grows, 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 repeat its assessment of food companies in August 2014 and will publish its findings in late 2014.

ThePigSite News Desk



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