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Businesses fail to address concerns on animal welfare

DATE: 7 January 2014

• Businesses continue to fail to address investor concerns on farm animal welfare issues

• New report reveals businesses are lagging behind consumers on farm animal welfare issues

Farm animal welfare rides high on the consumer agenda from cage-free hens to free range pigs, but this clearly is not translating to the business boardroom says the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare in its second Benchmark of the global food industry.

The Benchmark, which has been designed to encourage higher farm animal welfare standards across the food industry, covers 70 global food businesses, including major food retailers and wholesalers, restaurants and bars, and food producers – many of which operate in New Zealand.

The Benchmark found that while over 70% of these companies acknowledge farm animal welfare as a business issue, only 56% have published a formal farm animal welfare policy, just 39% describe how their board or senior management oversee their approach to farm animal welfare, and only 41% have published objectives and targets for farm animal welfare.

Rory Sullivan, expert advisor to the Business Benchmark comments, “A key conclusion to be drawn from the 2013 Benchmark is that farm animal welfare continues to be a business and reputational risk that many companies in the food industry are not effectively managing. 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 an immature business issue.”

Bridget Vercoe, WSPA New Zealand’s Country Director, says she is surprised that businesses continue to fail to address investor concerns on farm animal welfare issues, particularly as companies are facing increased scrutiny of their supply chains post the European horse meat scandal.

“Increasingly consumers are becoming concerned about the way in which farm animals are treated in the course of producing meat, dairy or egg products. As investor awareness of the business case for managing farm animal welfare standards grows, companies will be increasingly expected to report on their performance in a way that provides investors with the reassurance that farm animal welfare-related issues are being effectively managed across their operations and supply chains globally.”

“In fact, we are already starting to see a general increase in the number of companies identifying farm animal welfare as a business issue,” says Ms Vercoe. For example, since the publishing of the first Benchmark in 2012 we have seen a 10% rise (from 46% in 2012 to 56% in 2013) on the number of companies that have published formal farm animal welfare policies, and a 15% rise (from 26% in 2012 to 41% in 2013) in the number of companies that have published objectives and targets for farm animal welfare.

The seven companies that have carved out a clear leadership position in this area are Coop Group (Switzerland), Marks and Spencer, the Co-operative Food (UK), J Sainsbury, Marfrig, Noble Foods and Unilever.

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


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