Coop Switzerland, Marks & Spencer, Migros and Waitrose show leadership on farm animal welfare, reports shows

Retailers continue to be the strongest performing sector in the UK when it comes to managing and reporting their farm animal welfare policies and practices, according to the global Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) report published today (23 January 2017). Marks & Spencer and Waitrose retained their positions in the highest-ranking Tier 1 of companies, as did Coop Switzerland, but they were joined by fellow Swiss retailer Migros, which moved up from Tier 2 last year.

Now in its fifth year, the BBFAW provides an annual review of how 99 of the world’s leading food companies are managing risks and opportunities associated with farm animal welfare.  The report, which is compiled in collaboration with leading animal welfare organisations Compassion in World Farming, World Animal Protection and investment firm, Coller Capital, reveals that companies are paying increased attention to farm animal welfare within their supply chains.

For example:

  • 73% of companies now have published farm animal welfare policies (compared to just 46% in 2012)
  • 65% of companies have published targets on farm animal welfare (up from 26% in 2012).

Currently, 13 companies occupy leadership positions in the Benchmark’s top two tiers.  These companies demonstrate strong commitments to farm animal welfare and have established management systems and processes. They include Coop Group (Switzerland), Cranswick, Marks & Spencer, Migros, Noble Foods and Waitrose in Tier 1, and BRF, Cargill, Co-op (UK), Greggs, McDonald’s, Unilever and Tesco in Tier 2.

A total of 35 retailers and wholesalers were reviewed in the BBFAW report with 10 moving up at least one tier, five new entries, 18 non-movers, while Britain’s Sainsbury’s and Spanish chain Mercadona both moved down one tier to Tier 3 and Tier 6 respectively.  Morrison’s showed incremental improvement having moved up from Tier 4 to Tier 3 and Tesco moved up from Tier 3 to Tier 2.

Commenting on Tesco’s performance in the 2016 Benchmark, Claire Lorains, category director meat, agriculture and local said, “We’re delighted with our performance in the fifth global farm animal welfare report. Our BBFAW scores are testament to the hard work of our team, producers and suppliers over the years to continuously improve animal welfare across our food supply chain.

“We take animal welfare very seriously and know that our customers do too, so it is important to us that they can be confident in our welfare standards for the food that they eat”.

Morrisons’ improved ranking from Tier 4 to Tier 3 can, in part, be attributed to its policy commitments to the avoidance of close confinement, the use of cloned or GM animals in its own label products, the use of growth promoters in its meat and fish supply chains, reducing the routine use of antibiotics, the avoidance of routine mutilations, the use of pre-slaughter stunning for meat used in Morrison’s branded products and the avoidance of long distance transport for livestock in its supply chain.

Morrisons also has an ongoing farming programme which addresses animal welfare issues with supply chain groups across all relevant species and they published a comprehensive guide to dairy herd health management.

In contrast, unlike other retailers, who are showing year-on-year improvement in their animal welfare practice and reporting, clearly Sainsbury’s has yet to show that it is addressing the recommendations outlined by the BBFAW in its annual assessments.  Along with many companies in the 2015 Benchmark, Sainsbury’s would have been encouraged to ensure that its information on farm animal welfare was clearly defined and up-to-date. Some of these companies had not responded to the recommendations by the time of the 2016 Benchmark and saw certain of their scores reduce as a result.

The report also highlights the important role being played by institutional investors in driving improvements in practice and process across the food industry.

Reflecting on these findings, BBFAW executive director, Nicky Amos, said: “With 26 companies moving up at least one tier since 2015, there is a clear indication that the food industry is finally starting to treat farm animal welfare as an important business issue.

“Despite this progress, 42 of the 99 companies (including Restaurant Brands International, Domino’s Pizza Group Plc and Starbucks Corporation) appear in Tiers 5 and 6, demonstrating there is still much work to be done to even get farm animal welfare on the business agenda of many large global food companies.”

BBFAW Advisor, Rory Sullivan, commented: “The Benchmark shows that investors are key agents of change.  They are sending a clear signal to companies that they expect food companies to effectively manage the systemic risks and opportunities posed by farm animal welfare, and it is clear that companies are responding to these expectations.”

Compassion in World Farming’s CEO, Philip Lymbery said: “We have witnessed some monumental market shifts for animal welfare since the last BBFAW report. Stakeholders and investors are pushing this progress forwards, reflecting the wishes of the vast majority of consumers today. It is increasingly clear that this is an issue which cannot be ignored by companies and we congratulate those that are moving up the ranking and driving progress in animal welfare across the food industry.”