Many global food brands failing on animal welfare, report says


Dive Brief:

  • According to a new Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) Report from World Animal Protection and Compassion in World Farming, many food companies are not doing enough to prioritize animal welfare. The report looks at 150 global companies to assess how they are acting on promises concerning animal welfare, including easing confinement, eliminating beak trimming on egg-laying hens and tail docking for pigs, and not tethering dairy cattle.  
  • The 2020 report found that 59 food brands provide little or no information on their animal welfare policies and 31 have no framework. Among U.S.-based companies, Mondelez International, General Mills, Conagra, Mars and Hershey ranked in Tier 5 of the 2020 report, meaning they have public plans regarding animal welfare but have failed to demonstrate that they’ve acted on them. Cargill was the only U.S. company in Tier 2, which means animal welfare is “integral to [its] business strategy.” (No U.S. companies made it into Tier 1, which is considered to be leaders in the industry.) 
  • As consumers’ interest in ethical treatment of animals grows, this report may encourage companies to change their business practices or be more transparent about their animal welfare commitments. It shows progress has been slow in recent years, and the industry has plenty of room to improve. 

Dive Insight:

While the 2020 BBFAW report offered sobering news about the state of animal welfare commitments in the food industry, it also showed that 23 global food companies improved by at least one tier, including Mars and Unilever. Two CPGs — Nestlé and Barilla — were among those to move up three tiers since they were first assessed in the inaugural report in 2012. 

Cargill, the only U.S.-based company to rank in Tier 2, has stayed in this position for the past five years. This is a huge shift for what environmental watchdog Mighty Earth once called “the worst company in the world” for its reported disregard for preserving natural resources.

The company has been able to maintain its ranking through efforts such as adopting the World Organization for Animal Health’s Five Freedoms principles dealing with farm animal hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury and disease; fear and distress; and the right to express normal behavior. And Cargill has outlined research activities for each type of animal it uses in its supply chain, including looking at effects of castration in cattle and caring for broiler chickens in low-stress environments.

Kraft Heinz moved up to Tier 3 — meaning it has established animal welfare practices but still has room to grow —  from Tier 6 just a few years ago. The company, which updated its plans in 2019, has announced a goal to use only cage-free eggs globally by 2025. Currently, its global supply of eggs and products is 70% cage-free or free-range, according to the company. And it has made commitments to provide room for broiler chickens to grow with more living space per bird, helping its pork suppliers transition pregnant sows to alternative gestation housing, and has required suppliers to adopt animal care guidelines for dairy cattle in North America. 

Some food companies that ranked in Tiers 5 and 6 in the 2020 report have also announced their own animal welfare plans. In 2019, Conagra implemented new standards for its broiler chickens, including providing the birds with more living space and avoiding live-shackling. 

For the 2020 ranking, General Mills fell from Tier 4 to Tier 5. While the BBFAW report did not share a specific reason for the company’s decline, the rankings are based largely on animal welfare program performance and information disclosure. 

In a statement to Food Dive, General Mills spokesperson Mike Siemienas said, “We continue to focus on animal welfare and are making progress across several areas including: launching pilot programs to advance regenerative agriculture principles on dairy farms in our supply chain and on sourcing commitments such as cage-free eggs.”

In 2019, General Mills committed to using regenerative agriculture methods on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030. The method of farming is designed to protect natural resources by bringing carbon from the air and storing it in the soil. It also has announced plans to only use cage-free eggs by 2025, have its suppliers provide pregnant pigs with more room, and has also committed itself to the Five Freedoms principles for animals in its supply chain.

This report comes in the midst of companies making efforts to have more transparent food chains in response to consumer demand.  According to a 2018 report from Technomic and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 77% of consumers are concerned about animal welfare in regards to food.